Tyler Bozak didn’t make his return to game action at the behest of team doctors on Saturday night. The worry with Bozak is that his hamstring issue may be a nagging one for him this season, given he wanted to play despite the doctor’s orders and was limping around the practice rink the day before.
In any event, we’ll find out as the day progresses if Bozak will play his first game since exactly a month ago today against the same opponent he sustained the injury, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
James reimer is the expected starter tonight. Tyler bozak looks like he’s good to go as well. #TMLtalk
— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) November 25, 2013
Since that October 25 injury, his usual running mates James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel have been playing less minutes and producing less consistently:
JvR Points Per Game
Kessel Points Per Game
|Before Bozak Injury||21:07:46||20:17:16||1.0 (9 in 9)||1.09 (12 in 11)|
|After Bozak Injury||19:15:21||17:50:10||0.58 (7 in 12)||0.75 (9 in 12)|
The reality is that the problem is far more complicated than to arrive at a simple “Bozak’s gone” causation.
The intimation here is not that Tyler Bozak is the team’s vastly underappreciated number one center who is doing thankless work away from the puck that allows Kessel and JvR to produce at optimal levels. The fact of the matter is that Kessel’s production history is better without than with Tyler Bozak.
His absence has, however, contributed to throwing the lineup out of whack and a reduction in JvR and Kessel’s minutes.
Indeed, this is perhaps more accurately labeled a “Leafs obliterated down the middle” issue, of which Bozak is a part, as opposed to exclusively a “Bozak’s out” issue.
When Bozak first went down, Kadri jumped onto the top line and Kessel, JvR and Nazem combined for a whopping 15 points over three games against the Penguins, Oilers and Flames. Once Dave Bolland went down to injury in the Vancouver game, the struggles for the duo began. In order to try to balance the lineup, Carlyle shifted JvR to center and bumped Naz down a spot. The JvR at center experiment saw JvR-Kessel duo amass a total of one point, a Kessel goal on the powerplay, over the four games. Also in the mix was a three-game suspension to Kadri.
Are those time on ice numbers different if Bolland was available? Without a doubt. Kadri could have kept on centering Kessel and JvR without the need for change. And when Kadri was suspended, Bolland would have been centering the top line without much issue, as Carlyle trusts Bolland a great deal.
But we’re also aware that Carlyle trusts Bozak to center the team’s dynamic offensive duo, and Kessel and JvR’s minutes and production are down at least in part due to his absence. Even if it’s just for the penalty kill and getting the top line back to its familiar set up and ice time, the Leafs could use #42 back in the lineup.