Defensively challenged Maple Leafs face an enormous take a look at with out Rielly and Muzzin on the blueline

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Dropping Jake Muzzin was dangerous sufficient, however with Morgan Rielly sidelined for the subsequent two months, the Toronto Maple Leafs will must be better than the sum of their elements within the defensive zone. Morgan Rielly|Kevin Sousa/NHLI by way of Getty ImagesWhen I have a look at the scenario on the Toronto Maple Leafs blueline because it stands proper now, I’m reminded of what my esteemed colleague and good buddy Ryan Kennedy all the time says about sports activities psychology. “Sports activities psychology is all about mendacity to yourselves and others,” Ryan likes to say.
There’s definitely a component to that surrounding the Leafs, who misplaced defenseman Morgan Rielly to a damaged foot Sunday night time that can hold him out of the lineup for the subsequent two months. That harm got here simply two weeks after fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin left the lineup, additionally with a damaged foot. Being with out your top-two minute-munching and most dependable all-round defensemen concurrently could be a extreme blow for any group, nevertheless it’s much more pronounced on this group, one which pushes the tempo offensively, usually on the expense of defending, and one which endures its fair proportion of misadventures in its personal finish.
Even Rielly has considered that. Being injured for eight weeks will enable Rielly to relaxation up for the stretch run and the playoffs. There’s additionally been hypothesis that Rielly has been coping with different harm points. “I imply, you may put a spin on it,” Rielly mentioned. “I’ve been doing that. You attempt to take the chance to relaxation, heal different accidents, do what you may to organize mentally to get again and be in a great place.”
With a protection corps consisting of Justin Holl-Travis Dermott/Tyson Barrie-Martin Marincin/Cody Ceci-Rasmus Sandin, there’s a specific amount of optimism that must be injected into the scenario. Sandin is coming off an excellent World Junior Championship the place he was named high defenseman, however he’s nonetheless an adolescent for an additional two months. The Leafs would have most popular to not burn the primary yr of his entry-level deal, however that appears unavoidable at this level. Holl and Dermott have made strides and will probably be leaned on closely, significantly relating to matching up in opposition to high ahead strains. The best way Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe sees it, that is certainly a chance for progress, significantly with the Leafs having allowed 17 non-shootout targets of their previous three video games, all losses.
“There’s undoubtedly some heightened consciousness to it, which I feel is a wholesome factor for our group,” Keefe mentioned. “It’s a great alternative for us to rally as a bunch right here. It’s a major loss for us, as is Jake Muzzin. When ‘Muzz’ initially went out, we performed some good hockey and located methods to win video games constantly. That’s gotten away on us now, so it’s slightly bit time for extra reflection for us as a group the place we have to get higher and the place we are able to make up for these losses.”
Complicating issues in all of this has been the current play of goalie Frederik Andersen, who was the starter in all three of the current losses. He was pulled twice, permitting 10 targets on 59 pictures for an .831 save share and a bloated 5.70 goals-against common. So a few issues must occur. First, Andersen must be a lot better. And the Leafs should both possess the dwelling daylights out of the puck to maintain their opponents from getting scoring possibilities or they’re going to should do a a lot better job of defending.
“Clearly, he’s not as constant as he’s been,” Keefe mentioned of Andersen. “There was a time the place he was excellent and in quite a lot of methods was carrying us. We nonetheless have faith in his capability, nevertheless it simply hasn’t been as constant or as strong as you’d count on. A few of the possibilities we’ve given up have damage us when beforehand he was making these saves. It’s levelled off slightly bit.”
As Keefe identified, elite groups don’t get fazed by some of these issues and all good groups should cope with accidents. The Pittsburgh Penguins will welcome Sidney Crosby again into the lineup Tuesday night time after their celebrity missed two months with a core muscle harm. Keefe doesn’t envision a change in strategy, however he does need to see higher execution. “Even when we had been absolutely wholesome, we haven’t performed effectively sufficient in that sense,” Keefe mentioned. “We’re not enjoying the best way that we need to play.”
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Tags: toronto maple leafsConnect: Concerning the AuthorKen CampbellKen Campbell, The Hockey Information’ senior author, is in his second tour with the model after an eight-year stint as a beat reporter for the Maple Leafs for the Toronto Star. The Sudbury native as soon as tried out for the Ontario League’s Wolves as a 30-year-old. For sure, it did not work out.

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