The Toronto Maple Leafs had a relatively quiet weekend. There was a perfect explanation for that, however. It was the NHL’s All-Star break, which gave the majority of teams and players a chance to rest for the weekend. The rest took part in the festivities, which included the usual skills competition and three-on-three tournament.
The Maple Leafs lone representative was none other than rookie sensation Auston Matthews. The most recent first overall pick had a good showing in his first outing as an All-Star and didn’t look out of place among the plethora of NHL royalty around him, including the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Carey Price and Sidney Crosby.
Now that the break is over and the games are back on, the Leafs will need their young superstar to lead the way as they continue to fight for a playoff spot.
Morgan Rielly Still on the Shelf
It’s no secret that the Leafs’ defense is considered a bit porous on their best day. Mike Babcock has been able to get a lot out of the unit, which features two rookies, Connor Carrick and Nikita Zaitsev, in fairly prominent roles. Taking on most of the heavy lifting this year has been Morgan Rielly, the former Moose Jaw Warrior, who was drafted fifth overall back in 2012.
Rielly, while not your traditional number one defenseman, has been tasked by Babcock to try and learn to become one. He was doing a solid job until a recent game against the Buffalo Sabres that saw a player land awkwardly on his leg. Rielly was forced to leave the game and subsequently missed the next six contests.
Babcock said he's not looking for anything specific out of @mriles4 before he returns, just waiting for Rielly to tell him he's ready.
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) January 30, 2017
He was expected to be ready to go for the Leafs most recent game against the Dallas Stars but was ruled out after the morning skate by Babcock.
Rielly will try his best to be in the lineup when the Leafs take on the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night. He will likely be a game-time decision.
I understand the Leafs’ point of view in holding him out. Rielly is a huge part of the Leafs’ defensive presence and they would want him fully healthy for the next time he plays. With a long stretch of games upcoming, having Rielly back up to speed will only serve to help the Maple Leafs.
Marner the Magician
The Maple Leafs got blown out by the Dallas Stars to the tune of 6-3 in their first game back from the All-Star break. On a night that there wasn’t much to cheer about, there were a couple of bright spots.
Matthews looked like a dominant player and was routinely creating scoring chances. The other player who had a great game was Mitch Marner, the former London Knight. With the Leafs trailing by more than a few goals, Babcock put the lines through the blender.
— steph (@myregularface) February 1, 2017
The result was a fan’s dream, as Marner and Matthews got the green light to play together and try to create some offense. Every time they had the puck in the offensive zone, they looked extremely dangerous.
Marner found the scoresheet twice in the loss, tallying a goal and an assist to push his point total up to 41 on the year. That number now leads the Leafs and is one ahead of James van Riemsdyk and two up on the aforementioned, Matthews.
Marner is also tied with Winnipeg Jets sniper, Patrick Laine, for the NHL’s rookie points lead. Marner continues to impress everyone who watches him.
It seems almost comical that before the year started, there were huge concerns about his size and if he would manage to stick in the NHL this season. The former fourth overall pick has put all doubts to rest and has become a legitimate threat whenever he’s on the ice.
Marner was also recently rewarded for his play by being named the NHL’s rookie of the month for January. He joins fellow Leafs young guns William Nylander and Matthews who were also named rookie of the month for October and December respectively.