It has been an eventful 48 hours for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Falling 3-2 in overtime to the New York islanders on Monday, the Leafs lost yet another integral part of their core. This time, it was defenceman Morgan Rielly, who joined fellow blueliners Jake Muzzin (spine, LTIR) and TJ Brodie (oblique, IR) on the team’s injured list.
Diagnosed with a left MCL sprain following a neutral zone collision with Kyle Palmieri, Rielly will be out of action for at minimum 10 games or 24 days, meaning his soonest return to action would be December 17 against Washington. Typical recovery for such injuries is typically six weeks, give or take.
“Are you a better team when you have Morgan Rielly, T.J. Brodie and Jake Muzzin in the lineup? Of course, you’re a better team,” Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “But it’s not the first time a team has dealt with injuries to key players. Not the first time our team has dealt with injuries to key players. And each time we’ve responded well, won games, played even better defensively than we were when we had all these guys in the lineup.
The Leafs immediately called up fellow defenders Mac Hollowell and Victor Mete to help fill the void on the back end in advance of heading back out on the road for a four-game trip through the States.
“It doesn’t do you any good to sit there and feel sorry for yourself or anything like that. You gotta go play the games,” Keith added. “Each time we’ve lost a guy, for a moment, maybe you think, wow, that sucks. (Yet) it seems like our team plays better. So, I’m expecting the same.”
On Wednesday, the Leafs made a trade with the Arizona Coyotes for immediate defensive help in the form of Conor Timmins. In shipping 6-foot-9 defender Curtis Douglas to Arizona, Toronto picked up a former 32nd overall pick (2017) to which will draw into the lineup shortly, in hopes of helping the thin blueline.
“He’s obviously bigger of a guy than we have really able to come up,” Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas said. “We know he’s competitive, but I think just his brain, his intelligence, the way he’s able to make plays and be reliable both offensively and defensively. And I think for us, right now, he just turned 24, so a lot left there for us to work with.”
Later in the day, Toronto travelled to New Jersey for a test with the league’s hottest team, the Devils, and actually walked away with the win, snapping the incredible 13-game winning streak in the process. With New Jersey having three goals over-turned, the hockey gods just weren’t working in its favour on Wednesday.
“It’s definitely frustrating, but nothing we can do because the refs make the call and there’s nothing that’s going to change it, so we’ve got to stick with it,” New Jersey captain Nico Hischier said post-game. “I think we did a good job but came up short.”
The Devils fans are NOT happy after the disallowed goal 👀
The Maple Leafs have headed to the locker room after fans littered the ice with items pic.twitter.com/MQXPxKx4X5
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) November 24, 2022
Despite Devils fans attempting to pump up their team by littering the ice with beer cans, New Jersey just wasn’t able to regain its typical control, and fell to the visitors 2-1 on the night.
The Leafs will next travel to Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Detroit, before finally heading back home to Scotiabank Arena next Wednesday.