Most of us know that the definition of insanity is repeating the same mistake over and over again. Mike Babcock clearly doesn’t know that.
This space produced several articles during the regular season re: Babcock’s repeated stupidity during 4-on-4 hockey and overtime hockey. The Maple Leafs were absolutely brutal in overtime games this year, and Babcock’s personnel decisions were the main reason why.
He repeatedly featured no-hands grinders like Zack Hyman and Leo Komarov in these overtime showdowns, while slick skill players like Mitch Marner and William Nylander saw little, if any ice time.
In tonight’s do-or-die game, Babcock made several unforced errors that were front and centre when it was all said and done.
First, Babcock decided to risk playing his weakest defenceman Martin Marincin when Toronto’s fourth line was on the ice. The end result? Both the tying goal and Washington’s winning goal were scored with that combination on the ice. On the tying goal, it was a Marincin giveaway in the neutral zone that opened the door for Washington. On the winning goal, Marincin couldn’t handle his man in front of the net.
The Toronto fourth line is a good one. They had a good series. But because their only job is to keep the puck out of their own zone for 45 seconds, you want them out there with mobile defencemen who can wheel the puck out of trouble and up ice.
Even more ridiculous was two Babcock decisions pertaining to 4-on-4 hockey. With less than a minute to play in the third period of a possible elimination game, Babcock opted to send out Auston Matthews with the stone-handed Zack Hyman. Absolutely ridiculous.
The exact same blunder was repeated when overtime began on a fresh sheet of ice. Rather than send out any two of his skill players together (Matthews, Nylander, Marner, Bozak, Van Riemsdyk), Hyman again got the call to play 4-on-4 hockey with Matthews.
In a game when the next goal determines their season, Babcock was yet again coaching to “not lose” instead of sending out his skill and going for the win. You would think that after losing fifteen overtime games this year, Babcock might clue in that his gutless approach to showdown hockey never has and never will work.