It will be at least another two weeks before the Toronto Maple Leafs’ second line finally settles into a groove.
The Maple Leafs announced Thursday that captain John Tavares will miss at least two weeks with a broken finger sustained late in Wednesday’s loss to the Washington Capitals. He will then be re-evaluated by the club’s medical team.
It’s believed that Tavares suffered the fractured digit when he was struck with a Morgan Rielly shot late in the third period. The captain leaned into a slap shot and score on his next shift.
Losing a key player is certainly not ideal for a Maple Leafs club that has delivered inadequate results through the first two weeks of the season, but losing Tavares is a significant blow for a team trying to reach its full potential. Tavares and Mitch Marner just haven’t matched their dominant standard from last season through the first eight games, having failed to deliver meaningful even-strength offence while also struggling to keep the puck out of their own net.
So far out-scored 3-to-1 at five-on-five, it seemed imperative that the Leafs find a way to get the Tavares-Marner partnership right — and that will have to wait.
Rotating fourth-line centres Jason Spezza and Nick Shore in and out based on merit to this point in the season, the Maple Leafs should not have to look too far for a replacement. While it’s possible Alexander Kerfoot is promoted from the third line, at first blush it seems that elevating Spezza makes the most sense — even with Shore to this point earning more trust from head coach Mike Babcock.
Having served a top-six function for essentially his entire career to this point, Spezza’s offensive instincts have remained largely dormant in a lesser role in Toronto. While the speed of the game has become a challenge for him, Tavares doesn’t necessarily rely on quickness to create for himself. So Spezza, with his ability to create in the offensive zone and win faceoffs, is probably best equipped to deliver the most adequate Tavares impersonation.
The Maple Leafs will play six games over thee next two weeks, with two sets of back-to-backs included in the schedule. If the timetable holds, the earliest we’ll see Tavares is Nov. 2 versus the Philadelphia Flyers.
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