Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs play the Buffalo Sabres on home ice. The Maple Leafs clinched a playoff spot during their 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night. On the other hand, the Sabres lost badly to the Tampa Bay Lightning (5-0) in their last game and are on a three-game losing streak on the road.
Doesn’t that sound like – given the Maple Leafs’ “ability” to sometimes play down to an opponent – a letdown about to happen? Then again the Maple Leafs lost the last two games that they played against the Sabres, so that might be on the team’s mind. In addition, victories will help the team retain home-ice advantage during the playoffs, and that’s important.
In this post, I’ll look at some of the changes the team is having to do with its defense because of injury and illness. They are having to (or taking the opportunity to) shape-shift some of the players. The result is a different look defense for tonight’s game against the Sabres.
Shift One: Jake Muzzin Was at Practice But Won’t Play
Jake Muzzin, who’s just returned from a concussion, won’t play tonight. He did, however, participate in practice on Monday. Head coach Sheldon Keefe was quick to note that Muzzin’s being out was not related to his concussion.
Specifically, Keefe noted that Muzzin was “dealing with something right now. It is not related to the injury he just returned from [concussion].” Keefe added that Muzzin was “less than 100 percent here and needs a couple of days of treatment for that to settle down a little bit. He is not going to play tomorrow. We are hopeful or expecting that he will be available after that.”
Shift Two: Justin Holl Partners with T.J. Brodie
Justin Holl has had an up-and-down season; however, he should have a partner in T.J. Brodie who gives him a chance to play with some physicality without too much concern. Holl has been hitting, and the issue with hitting is that finishing a hit or a check takes you out of the play for a moment of time.
Brodie covers the movements of his partners very well. He usually plays a steady game that covers his partner’s moves.
Shift Three: Timothy Liljegren Partners with Morgan Rielly
Timothy Liljegren and Morgan Rielly have played together, but not since the last time the Maple Leafs played the Sabres, which was during the Heritage Classic in Hamilton just under a month ago on March 13. During that game, Liljegren did not have a great start and was demoted.
It’s an interesting pairing, and it will likely push Liljegren back to a more defensive posture. He had been exploring his offense during the games he’d been playing with Mark Giordano.
Shift Four: Mark Giordano Partners with Ilya Lyubushkin
In tonight’s game, for the first time, the two newcomers to the team will become a pairing when Mark Giordano plays on the same pairing as Ilya Lyubushkin. Giordano seemed to be looking forward to the pairing and spoke highly about his upcoming partner. He noted that he had “played against Boosh a lot when he was in Phoenix.”
Giordano went on to say that “Not everyone knows that he’s a really good playmaker. He makes little plays in his own zone to break out the puck. He’s a really big, physical presence on our back end, but he also has the ability to move pucks really well.”
‘Calm and poised’ Giordano providing stability on Maple Leafs’ blue line /via @globeandmail https://t.co/w02j3aEh1j @MapleLeafs @TBLightning @BallyLightning @Globe_Sports @globeandmail #Leafs #LightningNetwork
— Marty Klinkenberg (@globemartyk) April 4, 2022
“We don’t have a lot of time,” Keefe stressed. “We do need to try some different things and get some different looks in to be confident that when the regular season runs out that we will be ready to go. I don’t know that we will ever necessarily settle in the final games, but I will be confident that what we start with in Game 1 of the playoffs will be something that we are comfortable with and that we have given ample time to play itself out.”
Not Much Movement Yet for Rasmus Sandin
Rasmus Sandin remains rehabbing from his injury. However, he has been on the ice skating. When asked about Sandin’s status, coach Keefe noted that “There is no real timeline on him yet.”
Keefe added that “He has been skating regularly and seems to be progressing well. From what I am told, he still seems to be a ways away. I don’t know if he is going to be available before the regular season ends or not. If anything, I suspect it wouldn’t be until that final week. He is continuing to put the work in to do everything he can to be available.”
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