It isn’t going to be any easier for the Toronto Maple Leafs to make the postseason after their recent injuries. In today’s post, I hope to help Maple Leafs fans stay up-to-date on what news is emerging from the team – both about injuries and replacements and about how the players are doing on the season.
Item One: Rielly Will Be Gone for Two Months
As the saying goes, but with a twist: There’s good news and there’s very bad news. The good news is that Morgan Rielly was on a five-game scoring drought but contributed assists in back-to-back games including one in the team’s horrible 8-4 loss to the Florida Panthers. At the end of that game, the 25-year-old defenseman had 27 points and a plus-6 rating in 46 games.
Now for the very bad news. Those scoring totals might be the same at the end of the season. After blocking a shot in the Panthers game, Rielly fell to the ice in pain. A CT scan discovered that he fractured his foot and the word on the fracture isn’t good. He’s likely to miss “at least” eight weeks. The injury will be re-evaluated in the middle of March.
Item Two: Sandin Is Recalled by the Maple Leafs
Employing the next-man-up mentality, the Maple Leafs have recalled young Swedish defenseman Rasmus Sandin from its American Hockey League affiliate the Toronto Marlies. The rumors were that the Maple Leafs would likely recall Sandin from the Marlies anyway, but now there’s little choice.
Sandin hasn’t played in an NHL game since Oct. 12, but that wasn’t because he wasn’t playing well. In fact, he’s returning from a very successful 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship where he was named the best defenseman of the tournament. The 19-year-old had three goals and seven assists in 10 games and helped lead his Swedish team to a bronze medal.
With Rielly out for at least eight weeks, there’s a good chance the Maple Leafs will rely on Sandin to play big minutes. The one fly in the ointment, and with little choice in the matter, is that if Sandin plays four more games in the NHL this season, the first year of his entry-level contract will begin. Right now, that’s a minor issue for general manager Kyle Dubas.
As the Maple Leafs fight for a playoff spot, the injury situation keeps getting worse. Jake Muzzin is already out with a broken foot and now Reilly. The team needs Sandin to build on his great tournament play and step up to become a bigger part of the team’s defense. We’ll soon see what he’s made of.
Whether the Maple Leafs make additional moves is sketchy, but they’re hoping Sandin is as good as most think he can be. He scored 15 points in 21 AHL games, but now the teenager has a ton of pressure on his shoulders. The team also needs Travis Dermott, Justin Holl, Tyson Barrie, and Cody Ceci to step up until Muzzin returns.
Item Three: Hyman Keeps Scoring
Zach Hyman scored a goal and two assists in the loss to the Panthers. However, it was in a mop-up situation and the damage was done by the time his offense got going. That said, Hyman’s been value-added on the Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner line, and the partnership is improved by his presence.
Hyman now has 11 goals and 19 points in 27 games this season. Interestingly, he was the only Maple Leafs player who was on the plus side of the ledger against the Panthers, with a plus-2 rating.
Item Four: Johnsson Returned After 15 Games on the Shelf
After missing 15 games with a leg injury, Andreas Johnsson returned against the Panthers. He skated just over 11 minutes and didn’t find the score sheet. Although he played bottom-six minutes, he’s likely to play a bigger role when he’s back to full speed. He’s scored 16 points in 31 games for the season.
Item Five: Marner’s on a Seven-Game Scoring Streak
Although the game was in the tank by the time Marner scored, it’s always good when a player scores two goals. This amazing young winger is now on a seven-game scoring streak, with three goals and six assists. He’s on a point-per-game pace with 44 in 35 games. He’s back from his injury and playing as well as ever.
Item Six: Tavares Ends Scoring Drought
John Tavares came into the Panthers game without points in his last three games, which pushed him under a point-per-game pace this season. He finally scored a goal to end that mini-slump. The 29-year-old has 37 points (with 17 goals) in 39 games.
Item Seven: Kapanen and Nylander Have Upped Their Games
This may be old news but it’s worth repeating, that during a game against the Detroit Red Wings, head coach Sheldon Keefe was displeased with both young Kasperi Kapapen’s and William Nylander’s desire to check hard and benched them. Since then, both players have played inspired hockey.
Specifically, Kapanen is on a five-game point streak with a goal and six assists. He has 28 points in 46 games for the season. That’s good production skating mostly on the team’s third line.
Nylander’s lack of scoring was not for lack of trying. The 23-year-old’s nine shots were three more than he’d taken during any other game this season. Despite that, he went minus-4 Sunday, dropping him to an even plus-minus rating with 39 points in 46 contests.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The team is at home this week, with games against the New Jersey Devils (Tuesday), the Calgary Flames (Thursday), and the Chicago Blackhawks (on Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada). They desperately need to string together some wins to solidify a playoff position. It won’t be easy with Rielly out.
Wasn’t it just last week we were lauding the team’s resurgence since Keefe took over as head coach? What a difference a week can make in the NHL. That talk needs to happen again, but the team must win for such conversations to begin.