Back on the ice again, Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci are providing some hope that the Toronto Maple Leafs could get some reinforcements soon.
Now it looks like the Leafs don’t have to go much longer until they get some healthy bodies back on the blue line. Both Rielly and Ceci were with the team on the California road trip and while they aren’t expected to hit return this week, they are inching closer.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe says that he expects them to return next week which provides some much-needed relief considering the patchwork the team is using at the moment. Of course, this is a challenge Keefe has to navigate with two younger defencemen in Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren.
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One note from Monday’s practice was the Sandin would be getting the night off against the San Jose Sharks which sounds like Keefe trying to manage Sandin’s workload which isn’t easy with the team shorthanded.
What this recent stretch has shown is that while there were complaining about how Rielly and Ceci have played defensively this season, many would want them back in the lineup right now.
In past seasons, the California road trip used to be death valley for the Leafs until recently and after gaining some separation from the Florida Panthers, the last thing Toronto would want to do is let them close the gap.
Fortunately, Toronto has been able to remain above .500 with Riely out of the lineup over the past 19 games (11-7-2) and as NHL.com states, the Leafs were 24-16-6 (.587 points percentage) when Rielly was in the lineup.
A couple of reasons why things haven’t fallen apart completely with Rielly out is because the team had still had Muzzin and Tyson Barrie was already on the top power-play unit.
That’s not to say the Leafs are better without Rielly considering the sample size is different with him out of the lineup but in past seasons, it would have been tough to expect this team to tread water with their goaltending not playing to an elite level.
When it comes to Ceci, his absence has been noticeable just because of who the Leafs have had to rely on. Despite shocking the hockey world with his game-winning goal against the Vancouver Canucks, Martin Marincin still doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence defensively.
The Ceci injury also opened up an opportunity for Liljegren to showcase himself but there have certainly been ups and downs considering the 20-year-old is averaging 10:12 of ice time per game including 5:21 against the Panthers. There is nothing wrong with that considering the Leafs first-round pick from 2017 seems to be playing with a leash.
You can’t blame Keefe for not wanting to throw too much at his young defenceman but eventually, he will have to show that he can handle the responsibility. That time could even come against the Sharks, it’s tough to say.
Not too long ago, there was a lot of doubt as to whether this team could hang on with their injuries or crumble with the adversity. Luckily for them, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
What have you thought about the Leafs play with all the injuries on the backend? How relieved are you to hear that there is some help on the way? Let us know in the comments below.