I guess the saying is true: desperate times call for desperate measures. The Toronto Maple Leafs are heading into Boston tonight on the brink of elimination against the Bruins and head coach Mike Babcock decided to make a shocking change to his lineup ahead of Game 5.
We got a close look of what the lineup would look like when we saw what the lines were during Saturday's morning skate. Babcock has indeed decided to split up Auston Matthews and William Nylander.
After the skate, Babcock met with the media and told reporters that he'll start Matthews and Nylander on different lines, but that he is still unsure on which centres will play on which lines. However, it does seem like he will be demoting the latter to the bottom six.
"The bottom line is, it wasn't going so we need to change something and try and get it going," explained Babcock in his media scrum, as reported by TSN. "Now in saying that, if you go through the games, the games have been real tight, except for the one that got away in Game 2, they've been tight. But the bottom line is we are not scoring enough and we need to score."
One thing is certain: Babcock was not pleased with Matthews' and Nylander's performances following a Game 4 in which they failed to generate much offense.
"We were set up pretty good," Babcock lamented to the media after the loss on Thursday. "We didn’t take advantage. That’s on us."
"I’m assuming he thought he would come tonight and dominate the game — that’s what I thought," Babcock said afterwards of Matthews. "I thought the same with (William Nylander). That didn’t happen, but the other people you’re playing against are pros and they’re trying, too, and they’re competitive. There’s regular-season competitiveness and there’s Stanley Cup playoff competitiveness, and it keeps amping up.
"When you leave here tonight as an individual, as a coach, as a player, you’ve got time to evaluate … and most guys are pretty honest."
This lineup shuffle isn't that surprising, but the fact that Nylander might find himself on the bottom-six is. However, Maple Leafs fans can be comforted about one thing: Matthews is no stranger to being flanked by Zach Hyman and Connor Brown. If we take a look at the statistics offered by Corsica, in nearly 500 minutes together at 5-on-5 throughout the past two regular seasons, this newly-formed top line has generated 49.1 percent of the shot attempts, but 62.2 percent of the goals scored while on the ice together.
Matthews surely knows what's on the line: “We're do or die, our backs are against the wall. We need a win tonight," he said after practice.
This should be a least a tad reassuring... Right?