MONTREAL — There is something about the Montreal Canadiens that seems to bring out the worst of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Playing in front of a half-capacity crowd at Bell Centre, there was plenty of motivation for Toronto to have a good showing against the team that knocked them out of the first round of the 2021 NHL playoffs.
Two nights ago, the St. Louis Blues took advantage of scoring chances off the rush to down the Maple Leafs 6-3.
The chances against continued on Monday as the Leafs gave up the first five goals to Montreal in a similar fashion. The Leafs lost the game 5-2.
“I think as a group we’re obviously going to have to look into that more,” Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said. “It’s a common theme.”
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As embarrassing as a loss to the worst team in the league can be, it’s may pale in comparison to the loss of Jake Muzzin.
The veteran defenceman was involved in a collision with Canadiens defenceman Chris Wideman late in the second period. Muzzin was slow to get up and didn’t move for a while. He eventually got up and headed to the dressing room under his own power.
The severity of Muzzin’s injury isn’t known yet but he will not join the team’s charter flight to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets on Tuesday.
Muzzin has struggled to find his game this season. He recently returned this month after missing seven games with a concussion suffered against the Blues last month.
Regardless of the outcome, it may be time for Muzzin and the Maple Leafs to have a conversation about his immediate playing future. The player admitted last week that it was taking some time for him to get his physical game back given the long layoff from his concussion. He said that in order for him to be an effective player, he has to be physical.
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There was a hesitancy that came with along with Muzzin’s physical play and that could be intensified following the latest incident.
“Hate seeing it, you just want him to be ok,” Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said. “Scary to see no doubt, but very happy to see him get off on his own power.”
It may be time to shut him down for the remainder of the season to allow for him to get better.
Should Muzzin end up with a serious injury, they could end up placing the defenceman on the long-term injured reserve. The $5.625 million in salary-cap exception space the Leafs could create would far exceed any space they’d currently get through the daily cap accrual method they are currently on track for.
The trade deadline is four weeks away, so there is plenty of time to assess Muzzin’s injury. But given how it looked, some tough decisions for both the club and the player lie ahead.
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But back to the game.
The same issues that plague the Leafs against a top team in the league like St. Louis Blues crept up once again against the worst team in the NHL.
Toronto’s top-six forwards had a difficult night, particularly the second line of Tavares, Alex Kerfoot and William Nylander.
“I thought that line was really outworked like most of our guys work,” Maple Leafs Keefe said.
He later spread the minutes around to the bottom-six forwards. Both of Toronto’s goals came from that group. Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall had the lone tallies for Toronto.
If this game had an embarrassing feel to it, it wasn’t lost on Keefe who referenced the struggles against the Penguins in a 7-1 loss back in October before they pulled themselves out of a nosedive.
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“That was the start of some of the best hockey we’ve played all season for a six, seven-week period of time,” Keefe said.
Having dropped four of their last five games in regulation time, that’s what Toronto is drawing on now with the Blue Jackets as their next opponent on Tuesday. That’s when they connect with new defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin. It’s not clear yet if the defenceman, who was acquired on Saturday will play. But given the injury to Muzzin, Toronto may not have much of a choice.