Nazem Kadri was suspended Monday for the rest of the Toronto Maple Leafs' first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Boston Bruins after cross-checking B's forward Jake DeBrusk in Game 2.
The immediate challenge for the Leafs entering Monday night's Game 3 at Scotiabank Arena is finding a third line that can drive puck possession and score goals in Kadri's absence.
Kadri was the team's third-line center between wingers Patrick Marleau and William Nylander in the first two games of the series -- the Leafs and Bruins split those matchups in Boston. The most logical choice to replace Kadri down the middle is Nylander, and that's how Toronto lined up during Monday's morning skate.
Here are the lines used:
Zach Hyman--John Tavares--Mitch Marner
Andreas Johnsson--Auston Matthews--Kasperi Kapanen
Patrick Marleau--William Nylander--Connor Brown
Trevor Moore--Frederik Gauthier--Tyler Ennis
Nylander scored a goal in the Leafs' Game 1 win and picked up an assist on Toronto's lone goal in Game 2. There shouldn't be too much concern within the Leafs about Nylander playing well at center. He's certainly skilled enough to create scoring chances for himself and teammates.
That said, the Leafs have suffered in terms of puck possession and scoring output when Nylander has been with Brown and Marleau during 5-on-5 play. If Toronto is struggling to score in Game 3 and/or later in the series, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock should move Nylander to a line with faster, more skilled teammates.
Nylander with Marleau and Brown at 5v5 this year:— Stephen Burtch (@SteveBurtch) April 15, 2019
47.3% CF, 43.1% xG.
Nylander and Brown w/o Marleau:
59% CF, 49.2% xG
Nylander and Marleau w/o Brown:
59.9% CF, 55.2% xG
Nylander w/o either of them:
54.8% CF, 57.6% xG
Like jee... I dunno... let's use BOTH to drag him down
The player who most needs to improve his performance in Kadri's absence is Auston Matthews.
The 21-year-old superstar is scoreless through two games of this series, and he tallied only one goal and one assist in seven games between these teams in last season's first-round matchup. Matthews has scored 111 goals over the last three seasons, so he needs to play much better for Toronto to have the scoring depth necessary to beat a deep Bruins team. Mitch Marner and John Tavares cannot be asked to carry most of the scoring burden, especially when they're always up against defensive stalwarts Patrice Bergeron and/or Zdeno Chara.
Kadri's suspension hurts the Leafs at one of the most important positions. His teammates, most notably Matthews and Nylander, must pick up the slack without him or the Bruins could send the Leafs home with another early playoff exit.
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