‘It’s going to take an extra effort’: Toronto Maple Leafs preparing for Morgan Rielly’s absence

Photo credit:Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Ellis
1 month ago
It’s the dawn of a new day, Leafs Nation.
We’re still awaiting word on the suspension for defenseman Morgan Rielly, who is set to have a Zoom meeting today with the NHL to await sentencing for his cross-check on Ottawa Senators forward Ridly Greig this past weekend. It was initially supposed to be an in-person hearing in New York, but travel-related delays will keep him home.
Still, he’s set to miss at least six games, even as a first-time offender. And much like when he missed 15 games due to a knee injury last season, Toronto’s defensive depth is about to be tested.
The Leafs should know Rielly’s punishment by puck drop Tuesday night – a 7:00 PM ET start against the St. Louis Blues. But the team’s treating it like any other game day.
“The punishment is out of our control and out of his control, but it’s pretty big for a guy like that that’s been here for so long to stick up for us,” forward Matthew Knies said. “We don’t want to be disrespected. We’re a hard-nosed team… It was a meaningful thing for our team.”
Mark Giordano, who missed practice, will be good to go Tuesday. But Conor Timmins – who already missed significant time due to injury this season – is out indefinitely with mono. So this means guys like Simon Benoit and William Lagesson will need to step up in a big way, something they’ve done previously when injuries have arisen.
“It’s going to take an extra effort out of all of us to play better defensive and to create chances and bury those chances,” Knies said. “He’s a huge part of our backend and creates a lot for our forwards and stops a lot on D. It’s going to be a big hole to fill, but I think we’re going to be up for the challenge.”
The Leafs have rarely had a full, healthy defensive lineup – even excluding John Klingberg’s health issues. But losing Rielly for an extended period is a totally different animal. But everyone knows they need to step up and play their part, especially as the team looks to get back into the Atlantic playoff picture and avoid relying on a wild-card spot.
“Anytime something as these things happens, injuries or otherwise, it’s a chance to get the team’s attention and galvanize and rally around that,” coach Sheldon Keefe said. “In my time here, it’s something the team has done quite well.”
The Leafs are 5-5-0 over the past 10 games, including 1-2-0 since the all-star break. Both losses against the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators came against teams lower in the standings than Toronto. Three of the next four games will be much of the same, with two meetings with St. Louis and another with Anaheim.
Rielly is expected to be gone for all of it. And if the Leafs are going to avoid putting themselves in a precarious position, they’ll need to figure things out fast – and perhaps play their best stretch of hockey all season long.
“He’s a big part of our team, but we can’t focus on that,” Benoit said. “We have a game to play tonight and the guys who are going to take a spot have to do a good job, right? That’s it.”

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