With the injury to Bunting, the Leafs may have accidentally found the optimal top line for the playoffs

Published April 24, 2022 at 10:27
BY MIKE ARMENTI
In a scene that absolutely nobody wanted to see this close to playoff time, Leafs top line winger Michael Bunting went down with an unfortunate injury during the first period against the Panthers on Saturday and did not return.

The loss would be an potentially crippling one for the Buds, as Bunting, along with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, form one of the best top lines in hockey. And, of course, we cannot understate the importance of the physical, agitating style that Bunting plays and how crucial a player like that can be in the postseason.

The Leafs, down to 11 forwards, had to put the lines in a bit of a blender, giving looks to a few different players on the top line - most notably, Colin Blackwell, who plays a similar style to Bunting, albeit not quite as effective, and William Nylander.

The energy that Blackwell provides is certainly valuable to any line, but with the chemistry lacking, the Blackwell experiment on line one was a fairly short one. Nylander, on the other hand, had a chance to play almost 9 minutes with Matthews and Marner. Here's how they faired together:



Matthews, Marner and Nylander have some pre-established chemistry from their time together on a very potent and dangerous Leafs power play, so is it any real surprise that they were dominant against the Atlantic Division leaders on Saturday?

The numbers above would indicate that, more often than not, that line is going to not only hem the opposition in in their own zone, but will have ample opportunity to cave them in on the scoresheet as well, dominating on offense when the trio is on the ice together.

So, the question has to be asked; have the Leafs accidentally stumbled onto an optimal first line for the playoffs? Obviously, they're not going to be intimidating anyone with their physicality, but does that really matter if they're out-chancing the opposition with that sort of volume? Just some food for thought.
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