TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t want it to arrive this way, but they’re about to learn a little more about how ready their young defencemen really are.
Toronto’s No. 1 penalty killer and shutdown pair fixture Jake Muzzin has been diagnosed with a concussion and will not travel with the club to New York for its games against the Rangers (Wednesday) and Islanders (Saturday).
Muzzin, 32, was on the receiving end of a hard hit into the end boards by 215-pound Blues forward Klim Kostin during Saturday’s 6-5 victory in St. Louis.
“I haven't really seen it yet,” Muzzin said Monday. “But it rocked me pretty good a little bit. So, definitely kind of startled me the rest of that shift for sure.”
Muzzin remained in the game after the hit and was not removed by a concussion spotter.
Muzzin was a full participant in Monday’s practice in Toronto but reported to the medical staff that he wasn’t feeling quite right after the intense skate.
He was later diagnosed with a concussion and will remain in Toronto while the team travels.
Muzzin’s most frequent partner, Justin Holl, is still in COVID-19 protocol.
If there is a silver lining to be gleaned from subtracting a physical, veteran presence from the blue line, it’s that coach Sheldon Keefe will see up close how emerging prospects Rasmus Sandin, 21, and Timothy Liljegren, 22, handle some unsheltered matchups.
While we expect Toronto’s top pairing of Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie to log heavy minutes, the Leafs will not have last change on the road.
Travis Dermott will be joined by journeyman Alex Biega on Toronto’s third pairing Wednesday — a stiff test for the roster’s defensive depth.
The Maple Leafs allowed 15 goals during last week’s four-game western swing, so Keefe made protecting the net a major focus of practice this week, hoping to tighten up defensively.
“It's important to end plays, close things down, protect the net and then play from there,” Rielly said. “We've talked about that, and we’re completely aware of where our game is at. So, we’re going to look to improve and keep rolling.”