Jake Muzzin’s departure from the Leafs lineup creates opportunities for Sandin and Liljegren
Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
By Nick Barden1 year ago
@Jake Muzzin is out for the foreseeable future due to a concussion, which doesn’t bode well for the Maple Leafs.
The 32-year-old has been one of Toronto’s best defencemen in the last two years, up until this season where he’s struggled.
Since the beginning of this season, Muzzin hasn’t seemed himself.
It might be because of age. As a player, at 32-years-old, your body starts to slow down — mentally and physically. Muzzin has also endured a lot of physical battles throughout his career, whether it be injuries or just bumps along the road.
Diving into the numbers part, here’s how his last two seasons have compared to each other.
Muzzin’s 2020-21 season Muzzin’s 2021-22 season
As you can see, Muzzin’s numbers have dropped significantly compared to last season. Looking at last year, the 32-year-old presented a lot of positives at both even strength and the power play. This season, Muzzin has struggled in almost every regard, only having a positive GF/60 and CF/60 at even strength.
There’s no timeline for a return after Muzzin suffered a concussion vs. St. Louis on Saturday night. It’s unfortunate that he’s out, especially with a concussion, but this break will give him time to heal any wounds he may have suffered this season.
“I think in a lot of ways,” said @Mitch Marner when asked about where the Maple Leafs miss Muzzin most. “[Muzzin] brings a lot of things to this team, kind of the same as me. I’m an energizer. He’s a big guy that does a lot for us on the ice — blocking shots, throwing his body around. Penalty-kill wise, he’s one of the best in the league with his stick and reading plays, and reading the ice. We miss him in a lot of ways out there. He’s got great leadership on that bench as well. He’s obviously done some amazing things in his career, so we miss him in a lot of ways, but a head’s no joke. We gotta make sure when he’s coming back, he’s fully ready to go. We don’t need anything hurting him in the future, or even past hockey. He’s got a family and kids, and stuff like that. There’s more important things than trying to battle through stuff like that.”
Marner makes a good point in not rushing Muzzin back. Concussions are scary and can affect your brain in many different ways. He has a family and a long life after the game of hockey.
You’ll risk a hell of a lot if you step into game action while concussed. (I doubt the Maple Leafs would ever allow him or any player to play with a concussion.)
Toronto’s first game without Muzzin wasn’t the greatest. A 3-1 lead lost, and the Maple Leafs headed out of Madison Square Garden with their heads hung low.
A lot of the discussion headed into Wednesday night’s game was around @Rasmus Sandin and @Timothy Liljegren playing on the Maple Leafs second pairing.
The two didn’t have the best game.
Sandin was on the ice for three of the Rangers’ six goals while Liljegren was on for two. Both were on the ice for the game tying goal at 3-3, which highlighted their mistakes in the game.
Before @Artemi Panarin got the puck, Liljegren fumbled it at the Maple Leafs blue line and couldn’t get it out. As you can see in the video, the two defencemen struggled to find the player in front of the net after.
It happened on the 5-3 goal, too.
It seemed as though Liljegren and Sandin went to swap wings, but Liljegren was outmuscled by @Chris Kreider, who eventually scored. Watching it over again and again, it looks like Kreider gave Liljegren an elbow to the face, which was missed.
The bottom line is that the two struggled at points in this game. But they also had their good points as well.
Liljegren was involved in the Maple Leafs’ first and third goal, getting the puck up the ice allowing for offensive pressure. In turn, the puck ended up in the back of the Rangers’ net.
Each of the two players had their ups and downs in the game, but with Muzzin and @Justin Holl out, Sheldon Keefe made the decision to use them on the second pairing.
It’s a good idea when you think of it.
Giving Sandin and Liljegren the opportunity to play in that spot will only benefit them in the long run. Of course there’s going to be mistakes, but Keefe will be able to make them into teaching points.
Their backs will be against the walls in this process, which will allow for their best play to come out.
I believe it makes sense for Keefe to keep these two as the second pairing (until Holl returns) because Toronto really doesn’t have other options. @Travis Dermott was also on the ice for a number of goals on Wednesday night, as was @Alex Biega.
Once Holl returns, I’d expect Keefe to run with Sandin-Holl as the second pairing and Dermott-Liljegren as the third pairing.
This way, you give Liljegren, who may need more time against easier competition, to find his way. You’ll then allow Sandin to help compliment Holl, who’s another player that’s struggled this season.
Until Muzzin returns, I think that’s the most reasonable pairings for the Maple Leafs, unless something else comes up.
I’d expect Toronto to be looking for a defenceman ahead of the trade deadline. And depending who they get, it could help their blue line a great amount.
Right now, though, you have to work with what you have.
For Toronto, what they have could be a great opportunity for Holl to find his strong play from last season alongside Sandin. And for Liljegren and Dermott to try and cement themselves as bottom pair players for the rest of the season.
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