After the Maple Leafs cruised through November looking nearly unstoppable, they have suddenly been taken back down to reality. The team has lost three of their last four games and their poor defence can be attributed to these losses. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ blueline will need to regain its composure for the team to succeed.
Toronto Maple Leafs Blueline a Cause for Concern
Through their first 20 games of the season, the Leafs’ defence looked like their most valuable asset. Their deep top six looked solid and calm, resulting in few chances for opposing teams. A large part of this was the decision to take out usual top-four defenceman Justin Holl and replace him with Timothy Liljegren. With Liljegren in the team’s defence, they seemed much faster, quicker, and more involved in the offense as well.
During the past two weeks, the Leafs have began to falter on defence. Justin Holl has been back in the lineup, replacing Travis Dermott. The pairing of Holl and Jake Muzzin hasn’t been the steady, shutdown pair that the team has been accustomed to in prior years. They look much slower than before and are on the ice for many goals scored by opposing teams.
During Saturday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets, Rasmus Sandin was injured in a knee-on-knee collision with Jets’ defenceman Neal Pionk. Sandin has since been taken out of the lineup and is currently week-to-week from that injury. Losing Sandin, who was a crucial part of the team’s defence core, created holes. The team has now inserted rookie Kristians Rubins into the lineup, who has not been able to fill the hole left by Sandin.
The Bright Spots
While the Leafs’ defence has taken a recent downturn, their have been a few bright spots. Since signing a massive seven-year extension with the team, #1 defencemen Morgan Rielly has been sensational. The longtime Leaf now has 23 points on the season and sits tied for fifth in points among defencemen. His defence partner, T.J. Brodie, has also remained solid throughout the season. He has not contributed too much offensively but much of his impact comes on the defensive end.
Lastly, Timothy Liljegren has looked very comfortable for the Leafs so far. The former first round draft pick is playing in his first full season with the team, spending much of his early career in the AHL. He has shown why the Leafs had high hopes for him as he continues to thrive on the Leafs’ bottom pairing.
Looking into the Future
It’s no secret that the Leafs defence has let them down recently. While this could just be a short trend, the Leafs need to ensure that their defence is as great as it was in the beginning of the year. For that to happen, the Muzzin-Holl pairing will need to be better. Also, the entire defence will need to step up while Sandin is out of the lineup for the foreseeable future. When both the Maple Leafs’ sturdy blueline and high-powered offence are clicking, they change from a playoff team to a Stanley Cup contender.