The Toronto Maple Leafs have lost five of their past seven games and it seems like head coach Mike Babcock has shuffled his lines more frequently in the first month of the 2017-18 campaign than he did all last season.
Over the past 10 games the team has iced at least 10 different forward line combinations at even strength, according to Left Wing Lock. Constant line juggling can be a tough adjustment for players but it’s something Maple Leafs forward Matt Martin has become accustomed to throughout his NHL career.
“It can be challenging,” Martin told Good Show with Ben Ennis and JD Bunkis Tuesday. “When I was in New York [with the Islanders] the first three years it was kinda like that and then it was myself [Casey] Cizikas and [Cal] Clutterbuck were a line for pretty well the next three years and it obviously gets a lot easier when you’re playing with the same people all the time. You kinda have that chemistry and understanding of where everyone’s going to be all the time and the plays they’re going to make, but that’s the sport and there’s going to be changes throughout the lineup and you just make the best of the situation that you’re in.”
Martin has typically been used as a fourth-line grinder but lately he has been playing with skilled forwards Mitch Marner and Tyler Bozak, which resulted in Martin changing up his style slightly. The 28-year-old winger even recorded his first career three-point game last week in a loss to the St. Louis Blues.
“I think they’re two highly skilled guys. When they dump the puck I’ve still got to do my thing and be physical and try to get it back to them when I can,” Martin explained. “Obviously you’re getting more ice time playing with them, you’re a little more offensive minded, you get a little more offensive zone starts and faceoffs, so the role changes a bit but at the end of the day we’ve just got to win games and that’s the most important thing.”
With star centre Auston Matthews operating at less than 100 per cent, the Maple Leafs shook up the lines yet again at practice Tuesday, sending Kasperi Kapanen down to the AHL’s Marlies and calling up Frederik Gauthier.
This resulted in Martin skating on a line with Josh Leivo and Dominic Moore, which could mean Martin might have new linemates Wednesday when the Maple Leafs host the Minnesota Wild.
“It’s just been a lot of fun, really,” Martin said of playing with Marner and Bozak. “This is the most generic answer of all time but I think everyone’s working hard on our line and just trying to get on pucks and get pucks back and then on top of that once we have a chance to make plays, first I want to get it to them because they have tons of skill. When they have the puck they’re as good as anybody in the league and obviously last year had a ton of success playing together (on a line withwith James Van Riemsdyk).
“They’re really easy guys to play with.”
Bozak and Marner skated with Connor Brown Tuesday.