With injuries wreaking havoc on two of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ most valuable defenders in Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly this past January, much of the fate of the team was left up in the air, posing questions surrounding the chances of the Maple Leafs’ future playoff hopes come the second half of the 2019-20 season.
To help rectify the situation, the Maple Leafs made some call-ups from the Toronto Marlies with prospects like Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren being introduced into the lineup in an attempt to minimize the impact of their losses. Of course, these younger players aren’t going to be able to fill the shoes they are replacing overnight and thus the Maple Leafs struggled to find their defensive footing throughout the course of the month, costing them a few noteworthy games – one example being the 6-2 defeat at the mercy of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Now, that being said, not all of what we saw from the Maple Leafs’ prospects was all bad. Sandin had a rather nice showing in his game against the New Jersey Devils, tallying two assists while making some great plays on the blue line. Sandin’s vision and puck movement are going to be a force to be reckoned with as he develops his game and gets older. Safe to say that I believe Maple Leafs fans can rejoice around the bright future of the organization.
Muzzin’s Return Sparks Some Life in Maple Leafs’ Defense
Since Muzzin’s return to the Maple Leafs’ lineup, he has been quite impactful in restoring some of the defensive strength to a team that arguably lacks any real physical powerhouses.
He only has one assist in the four games he’s been apart of since his return, which is totally reasonable as he still looks to find his stride. His presence has largely been made known through his ability to close off important gaps in the neutral zone. Muzzin’s shutdown capabilities are something the Maple Leafs will be thankful to have back and it will only be a matter of time before he is able to produce more points.
Andersen Leaves Game With Upper-Body Injury
As for the future and what February has to behold for the organization, that will most likely rest on Frederik Andersen’s shoulders who left abruptly after the first period in the Feb. 3 contest against division rivals, Florida Panthers.
After a collision with Frank Vatrano of the Panthers towards the end of the period, Andersen sustained what is being reported as an upper-body injury. He did not return to the game which saw the Maple Leafs fall 5-3.
It is too early yet to speculate on the severity of the injury and we will have to wait until more details on his condition are released to make any real judgments, but for Maple Leafs fans, one can only hope that it is nothing too serious and that Andersen will be back on his feet soon.
The playoff hopes for the Maple Leafs truly lie within Andersen’s glove. Michael Hutchinson has been a more than competent backup goalie for the organization, but when it comes to winning a series, Andersen will need to be healthy. We’ve already seen the impact the loss of Rielly and Muzzin has had, and at this stage, losing their goaltender could prove devastating.
The Maple Leafs are currently tied with the Panthers at 63 points for the last playoff spot in the Atlantic and they certainly cannot afford to get stagnant. They must continue to pump out wins if they are to maintain a playoff position. If Andersen has to miss more than a couple of games, the Maple Leafs may very well be in some serious trouble as other teams look to capitalize on their weakness.
What do you think about the current state of the Maple Leafs? Are the injury problems a cause for alarm? Let us know in the comment section below.
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