The Toronto Maple Leafs’ tumultuous season has seen a new dose of chaos thrown into the mix.
If a coaching change, an off-season blockbuster deal that hasn’t panned out, and injuries to Mitch Marner and John Tavares weren’t enough to shake things up, the loss of the club’s two ice-time leaders in Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin will add a fresh test for Sheldon Keefe’s club to navigate.
Both defenders remain on the injured reserve with foot injuries, and while Muzzin will likely return first, neither seem likely to figure into the Leafs’ plans any time particularly soon. Unfortunately, that’s a key problem for Toronto, as the first half of the 2019-20 campaign didn’t see the club build up enough insurance in the standings to withstand any significant drop-off.
As it currently stands, Toronto sits third in their division with 56 points. Florida — who just dealt the Leafs an 8-4 shellacking on Sunday — sits just three points back with two games in hand. Should Toronto get pushed into the wild-card race, the Hurricanes sit tied with them at 56 points, with Philadelphia and Columbus only trailing by a pair.
Suffice it to say, the Maple Leafs need to maintain their current level, or risk winding up in a tough race for the post-season down the stretch.
So far, so good. Without their top two defenders Tuesday, the Maple Leafs managed to put away the New Jersey Devils with a 7-4 win — with recently called up Rasmus Sandin chipping in two points to prove he can help his team weather the storm for the time being. Justin Holl and Travis Dermott led the way in ice-time, each skating over 21 minutes in the tilt. Tyson Barrie and Martin Marincin lined up as the second pair, with Cody Ceci and Sandin rounding out the blue-line group.
But here’s betting things get tougher once the Leafs are up against a team better than one that struggled mightily even before they traded away their recent Hart Trophy winner. The state of Toronto’s blue line has many among the Maple Leafs faithful clamouring for a trade to shore up the back end for tougher affairs that’ll come.