Mike Babcock is the master of projecting resolve and determination from every fibre of his being.
A sense of doubt around him has as much chance as … as the Leafs’ defence when the Boston Bruins have the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line on the ice.
But one has to wonder if the Toronto Maple Leafs’ head coach is feeling as overwhelmed as his players right now.
The Leafs ship has so many holes it is hard to find a place to begin with potential repairs in time for Monday night’s third game in the first-round NHL playoff series. At this point, it is not even certain the Leafs can find enough jam to avoid an embarrassment in front of their own fans, let alone making a dent in Boston’s 2-0 series lead with an actual win.
Perhaps the best place Babcock can start with his list of repairs is himself. If the Leafs are to slow down the buzz saw that tore through them in the first two games of the series, the coach has to put aside at least some of his own beliefs.
For example, his lack of trust in Dominic Moore and his persistent yet puzzling belief in Tomas Plekanec. All season long, Babcock looked elsewhere for a fourth-line centre while Moore played in fits and starts. It started in training camp with the Miro Aaltonen flirtation, then there was Eric Fehr for a bit, back to Moore, then Frédérik Gauthier and so on.
Plekanec’s arrival at the trade deadline was supposed to end all that and give the Leafs someone who could play almost anywhere in the lineup. But the shock that the Montreal Canadiens traded him, the only NHL team he ever played for, seems to have been too much for Plekanec.
Through two playoff games, the reluctant Czech was a mere spectator. He should never wear a Leafs sweater again. And now that Leo Komarov (leg) may join Nazem Kadri (suspended) on the sidelines, there are no practical reasons for Babcock to keep Moore out of the lineup.
No, Moore is not going to turn this around. But youngsters Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson should at least get to have a live body at centre.
Something else Babcock needs to set aside is his aversion to loading up the ice time on his younger players. With Kadri’s inability to exercise even a modicum of common sense -- taking him out of the series for three games -- and veterans Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk joining Plekanec on the missing-persons list, it is time to see what the kids can do with a heavy workload.
Take Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Kapanen and Johnsson, spread them on the top nine with Connor Brown and Zach Hyman, and roll them. Maybe their speed will be enough to dislodge that big, suffocating rock known as the Bergeron line.
Which brings us to the most onerous task of all. Trying to bring some sense of order to the Leafs’ game when Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak are running amok to the tune of 20 points in two games.
In the first game, the Boston trio shredded Matthews’s line and the defence pair of Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey. In Game 2, Babcock assigned Nikita Zaitsev and Jake Gardiner to the big line and they were even worse than Rielly and Hainsey.
And don’t even think about Travis Dermott and Roman Polak. The latter is so far behind the play in this series he could almost find Plekanec. Not that Polak is alone. As a group, the Leafs defencemen are giving all of the Bruins forwards great swaths of open ice in their own zone.
There was a small burst of light for the Leafs when they used their speed in the first five minutes of the second game to at least keep the Bruins on the defensive. That may be the only solution given that the Bruins are so dominant physically. Maybe somehow that might fix the abysmal penalty killing and power play as well.
In any case, Babcock was as dismissive as usual on Sunday when asked about his plans for Monday night. He isn’t expecting Komarov to play and Frederik Andersen, not great in this series but not a culprit either, will start in goal. That was all the coach was willing to say.
“We’re going to play hard against them. We’ve got last change. I’ll tell you tomorrow during warmup,” was the word on how Babcock plans to handle the Bergeron line. Presumably he will think of something by then.