BOSTON — “He needs to be a factor,” Mike Babcock asserted as the Toronto Maple Leafs began picking up the pieces, and the “he” in question wasn’t Auston Matthews.
Or William Nylander. Or Mitch Marner. Or Morgan Rielly, Frederik Andersen or Patrick Marleau.
After falling on their faces in a dispiriting playoff opener against the Boston Bruins, the veteran coach identified Leo Komarov as a potential difference-maker in Game 2. This was not what we expected to hear. But Babcock had already gilded Komarov with a spot alongside Matthews and Nylander as part of the shakeup brought on by Nazem Kadri’s anticipated suspension, and he made it clear that the Finn was tabbed to be more than a passenger on a high-powered jet.
“I think the biggest thing for him is he was competitive last night and we’re trying to get the most competitive people involved as much as we possibly can,” said Babcock.
The decision raises some interesting questions given how little time Komarov has spent playing with Matthews—slightly more than 60 minutes total at 5-on-5—and how ineffective those forays have been.
For starters, they’ve each produced better possession numbers apart than together. Komarov is a meat-and-potatoes winger, not particularly fleet of foot, who is coming off a season where his shooting percentage dropped to 6.1 per cent while he scored just seven goals. He’s not a natural fit for the team’s most dangerous marksman.
But context is important. Babcock is trying to assemble the puzzle pieces for a lineup that can win a playoff game on the road—a scenario where coaches value players who are hard on the puck and not prone to turnovers that end …read more