MONTREAL — There’s something about the Montreal Canadiens that seems to bring out the worst in the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Playing in front of a half-capacity crowd at the Bell Centre, there was plenty of motivation for Toronto to have a strong performance 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 opportunities on the run to defeat the Maple Leafs 6-3.
The odds against continued Monday as the Leafs allowed the first five goals to Montreal in the same fashion. The Leafs lost the game 5-2.
“I think as a group we’re obviously going to have to look at that more,” Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly said. “It’s a common theme.”
As embarrassing as a loss to the league’s worst team might be, it may pale in comparison to losing Jake Muzzin.
The veteran defenseman was involved in a collision with Canadiens defenseman Chris Wideman late in the second period. Muzzin took a while to get up and didn’t move for a while. He finally got up and headed for the locker room on his own.
The severity of Muzzin’s injury is not yet known, but he will not join the team’s charter flight to Columbus to face 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, maybe it’s time for Muzzin and the Maple Leafs to have a conversation about his immediate playing future. The player admitted last week that he needed some time to regain his physical game given the lengthy layoff due to his concussion. He said that for him to be an effective player he has to be physical.
There was a hesitation that accompanied Muzzin’s physical acting that could be intensified following the latest incident.
“I hate to see it, you just want him to be okay,” Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said. “Scary to see no doubt, but very happy to see it come down on its own.
It may be time to shut him down for the rest of the season to allow him to improve.
Should Muzzin sustain a serious injury, they could end up placing the defender on the long-term injured list. The exceptional $5.625 million salary cap space the Leafs could create would far exceed any space they currently get through the daily cap accumulation method they are currently on track for.
The trade deadline is four weeks away, so there’s plenty of time to assess Muzzin’s injury. But given his appearance, tough decisions for both club and player lie ahead.
But back to the game.
The same issues that plague the Leafs against a league-best team like the St. Louis Blues have crept in again against the NHL’s worst team.
Toronto’s top six forwards had a tough night, especially the second line of Tavares, Alex Kerfoot and William Nylander.
“I thought that line was really overworked the way most of our guys work,” Maple Leafs Keefe said.
He then divided the minutes around the last six forwards. Both of Toronto’s goals came from this group. Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall were Toronto’s only scorers.
If this game had an embarrassing feel, it was not lost on Keefe who referenced the struggles against the Penguins in a 7-1 loss in October before they nosedived out.
“It was the start of some of the best hockey games we’ve played all season in a six or seven week stretch,” Keefe said.
After losing four of their last five games in regulation, that’s what Toronto is now building on with the Blue Jackets as their next opponent on Tuesday. It was then that they met the new defender Ilya Lyubushkin. It is not yet clear whether the defender, who was acquired on Saturday, will play. But given Muzzin’s injury, Toronto may not have much of a choice.
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