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Babcock and Martin on Saturday's lineup and improving Leafs’ toughness

The Leafs’ bench boss doesn’t like how his team got “smacked around”. So, will he play Martin on Saturday?

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Toronto Maple Leafs enforcer Matt Martin made his long awaited return to the team’s lineup on Monday night, earning just over nine minutes of ice time in a disappointing 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Credit to Martin though, as he played well alongside winger Leo Komarov and newcomer Tomas Plekanec for most of the evening.

“I thought he played good, and I thought that line was our best line in the early going,” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said of Martin and his line in Buffalo. “Leo had a couple of goals and I thought Plekanec had jump. I thought that line was good.”

Indeed, it seemed like Martin hadn’t missed a beat, despite sitting in the press box for the past 18 games. He even hooked up with Komarov on a pretty tic-tac-toe goal:

The big man is back! But, for how long? Does Babcock plan on using him Saturday night? After all, the Leafs have a big test coming up on Saturday night against the defending Stanley Cup champions Pittsburgh Penguins and Babcock admitted that he didn’t like the way his team was “smacked around” by the Washington Capitals last weekend. 

“That’s (Babcock’s) decision,” said Martin when asked about Saturday’s game. “I control what I control and I felt good out there. I think Leo and Pleky made it easy for me, two veteran guys who always seem to be in the right spot and work hard. When I was pretty winded in the first period, they were hounding pucks and we were playing in their end more often than not, so that makes it a little easier. Two easy guys to play with and they helped me a lot.”

Don’t be surprised if Martin does remain in the Leafs lineup, not just for Saturday, but for the indefinite future. The addition of Plekanec gives Babcock the option of running Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak and Plekanec down the middle and enables him the flexibility to scratch center Dominic Moore and play a more specialized winger like Martin. Plekanec is a definite upgrade over Moore and Martin brings something to the team’s lineup that no one else can: intimidation and brute strength

That was evident when Martin laid a hit on Sabres forward Kyle Criscuolo that landed the youngster on the injured reserve for six weeks.

Ouch. That’s like running into a brick wall.

“You never want to see anyone get hurt,” Martin said. “It’s not what you are trying to do out there. You want to be physical and have an impact. I don’t even know when I hit him, exactly. 

“It’s a physical game and rivalry games like this are always a little more physical. But no, you never want to see anyone get hurt. That’s definitely not the intention.”

Fair enough. And here’s the thing, as we get down the stretch and into the playoffs the Leafs are going to be playing these rivalry games on a nightly basis. Doesn’t it make sense to have a tough guy like Martin on the ice each and every night?