As most Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans now know, the team’s best defenseman Morgan Rielly suffered a knee injury against the New York Islanders and was placed on LTIR (long-term injury reserve). Perhaps that’s not the only thing going on with the team; however, it is the major thing.
Rielly Is Not the Only Injury the Team Is Suffering
After practice yesterday, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed the injury to Morgan Rielly and noted how difficult Rielly would be to replace. But (again) that’s not the only injury the team has suffered on the blue line.
On top of that injury, defenseman Jake Muzzin won’t be back until at the earliest late February. Furthermore, TJ Brodie suffered an oblique injury and that injury has been slow to heal.
The result is that two defensemen from the Toronto Marlies – Mac Hollowell and Victor Mete – were called up to the big club. The word was that Hollowell would draw into the lineup for tonight’s game against the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils Will Be (and Have Been) Hard to Beat
Anyone who’s any kind of an NHL fan knows that the Devils are on a franchise-best (and an NHL-best winning streak). They have won 13 straight games and are looking to make it 14 against an under-manned Maple Leafs’ team.
The game tonight is in New Jersey. Two nights ago, the Devils beat the Edmonton Oilers by a score of 5-2. In short, it’s been a long time – almost a month – since the Devils have lost a game. Do the Maple Leafs stand a chance?
The Maple Leafs Defensive Pairings for Tonight Are Odd
Later yesterday, TSN’s Mark Masters tweeted out the practice lineup that Maple Leafs employed.
If Tuesday’s practice is an indication, and it usually is, the defensive pairings are quite new for the team.
The Maple Leafs’ First Pairing
The ageless Mark Giordano and Justin Holl get the top pairing. Giordano has been one of the team’s best players this season. Furthermore, he helps whomever he plays with improve their game as well. Recently, that player has been Justin Holl. And, Holl has played some strong games over the last few.
The Maple Leafs’ Second Pairing
Suddenly, both young Swedish defensemen Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin have a huge opportunity. Together they will form the team’s second pairing. Yesterday, coach Keefe noted that:
“For Rasmus, in particular, there is an increased opportunity on the power play and more minutes. It is everything you want as a young player. He’ll look to take advantage of it and all of those things.”
Keefe added, “As it relates to Rasmus specifically, in the last few games, I have seen a real uptick in his play. I think he is starting to show more confidence with the puck. He stepped in with the fight and stuff last night. I think those are different things that add to his swagger a little bit.”
Liljegren has been emerging into a solid defenseman. Not only are his advanced analytics strong, but he’s looking more confident with the puck.
The Maple Leafs’ Third Pairing
The team’s third defensive pairing should be fun (in an interesting way). Veteran Jordie Benn, who’s been having some strong games for the Maple Leafs, will be pairing with newcomer Mac Hollowell. It looks as if Hollowell will get his first NHL start. He’s a speedy skater and should be fun to watch.
Good luck to him.
The Forward Lines
The one big decision has been the insertion of Nick Robertson into the lineup. Robertson will be inserted into the second line, with Alex Kerfoot moving to the third line. Denis Malgin hasn’t been playing badly, but he hasn’t injected much success into the team’s offense.
Auston Matthews and William Nylander will remain together, with Mitch Marner and John Tavares partnering with Robertson on the second line. Pontus Holmberg looks as if he’ll get a long look at the third-line center position. With Zach Aston-Reese and David Kampf on the fourth line with Pierre Engvall.
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