The Maple Leafs are tinkering around with their fourth line over the course of the season so far. On Tuesday night, the use of seven defencemen meant fewer minutes for some forwards.
“It’s about finding ways to win and about finding chemistry,” Leafs assistant coach Steve Spott said. “Obviously, we’d like to play four lines and have six defencemen, but we have to do what is best for the Toronto Maple Leafs.”
This is largely because of the tandem of defencemen performing well over the course of the season: It’s getting increasingly hard for the coaching staff to justify resting one out of the seven D-men. At the same time, the fourth line is actively trying to be better.
“We understand the importance of our fourth line,” Spott added. “We’ve got an abundance of skill and an abundance of size down there. It’s just a matter of getting it out every night.”
Peter Holland managed to find time on the Leafs secondary penalty kill and is taking a positive approach.
“Even if we are playing low minutes or whatever it is we are an important part of this team,” Holland said. “We have to create momentum while we are out there, give the guys a break, our top guys play a lot. 82 games is a long season so we need to be ready when we are out there.”
Richard Panik was claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay in an effort to kickstart the line. Panik spent time with Holland on a line during their junior days, but the repetitions were more frequent back then.
“When we were playing junior together, we were playing 20 minutes a night, so it’s easier to figure each other out,” said Holland. “I know how Richie plays. The more we have the puck the better.”
Panik played in a similar situation, having been on gameday lineups with seven defencemen with the Lightning. Should the Leafs continue to go with this plan, Panilk feels like he’s hitting a groove with it.
“I remember in the third period (Tuesday night) I was with Clarky and we played really good,” said Panik.
“I think it’s fine. If you stick to it in your system it’s going to work out for you.”
Brandon Kozun brought speed to the fourth line, but a high-ankle sprain is keeping him on the shelf for the foreseeable future. Matt Frattin played in a couple of games, while Carter Ashton is waiting in the wings. Ashton has yet to play this season, but he was getting more looks at Friday’s practice.
“I have to earn everything I get,” Ashton said. “That’s part of being a good teammate, being ready when you’re needed. Doing the little things right, work your hardest and be patient with the opportunity.”
Leafs Lines at Practice