Although the injury to winger James van Riemsdyk
is a significant blow to the Maple Leafs’ offense, like all injuries, it opens up opportunities – not just for the player who’ll replace an injured teammate on the roster, but in terms of the domino effect on forward lines and/or defensive pairings. In Toronto’s case, Marlies sniper Josh Leivo
was recalled from the American League to fill in for van Riemsdyk, but as the Buds prepared to take on Columbus Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre, head coach Mike Babcock also looked at new lines.
Most notably, forward Shawn Matthias will take van Riemsdyk’s spot on a line alongside centre Tyler Bozak and winger P-A Parenteau. It’s a reunion of sorts, as Matthias played 18 games with the two veterans earlier this season. But now that he’s settled in as a Leaf after signing as an unrestricted free agent last summer, Matthias recognizes that this is his chance to make more of an impact on the scoresheet.
“With (van Riemsdyk) out, there’s lots of opportunity,” Matthias said following the pre-game skate Wednesday morning. “We have (Leivo) coming up for his first game and I’m excited to play with [Bozak] and P-A. We played together earlier in the year and we had some fun and some chemistry. They’re good players who make plays and have a lot of skill. They’ve been hot lately, and I want to come in and help them. I know they’ll help me."
The 27-year-old Matthias had a career-best 18 goals and 27 points for the Vancouver Canucks last season, and though he’s scored just three times in 39 games with Toronto this year, the Mississauga, Ont., native has already equaled his assist total (nine) from 2014-15 and has been a valuable contributor on the defensive side.
“You obviously want to score goals, but there are years when things are a little different,” Matthias said. “I thought I was playing well with (center Byron) Froese and (winger Brad) Boyes. I thought we were doing a good job with the role we were given. We were playing in the other team's end and we had good possession numbers…I just have to play the same style I’ve been playing: getting in on the forecheck, winning puck battles, being hard and heavy down low, and getting to the front of the net."
“Bozak and Parenteau are playing well; someone’s going to get the opportunity. I’m just going to watch, and he’s getting first shot at it,” said Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock. “So good for him, let’s get him going real well, and this will be good for us, too.”
Babcock is famous for his straightforward nature, and Leafs players including Parenteau have spoken publicly about their appreciation for the clearly-defined roles he assigns to them. When a player such as Matthias finds himself changing roles, Babcock is just as candid in terms of what he’s looking to see from him.
“If my boss thinks I’m not doing a good job and he tells me, and then tells me what to do, I can fix it,” Babcock said. “I want to please him. I think players are the same. They want to know. I don’t think you’ve got to be belligerent about it in any way. You’ve just got to tell them what you want, and I think they’ve got a better chance to please you and please themselves.
“Every player I’ve ever coached wants to play more. They just want to do well. So, give them a plan to do well, and get out of their way.”