With the Maple Leafs coming off an overtime loss to the Washington Capitals where they took so many penalties, the official total is listed as “lots and lots” on the gamesheet, they, ironically, need to practice their power play more than anything else.
Yesterday, they had a chance to try out someone new on the top unit. Or rather, someone old. John Tavares hit the ice in his regular spot with his team for the first time since exiting the game on October 16 (a tough one-goal loss to the Capitals) with a broken finger.
He spoke to reporters after and wasn’t firm on a return date.
John Tavares said his recovery from finger injury is going well: "It's definitely progressing. I wouldn't say it's exactly normal but definitely getting closer and getting better so happy with the progress." Has a few more hurdles he wants to clear before playing again.— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) October 30, 2019
He skated with Mitch Marner and Trevor Moore, which left the Ilya Mikheyev - Alexander Kerfoot - Kasperi Kapanen to form the third line.
It seems clear that Zach Hyman is more like to be back mid-November than sooner.
Meanwhile, Morgan Rielly, who is suffering from some undisclosed injury he is playing through, missed another practice, with Jason Spezza skating in his spot. More on that in a second. Rielly is playing the fifth most all-situations minutes in the NHL per game. He is behind only Thomas Chabot (Ottawa’s only real defender), Brent Burns, John Carlson and Oscar Kelfbom.
That is a little deceptive, however; at five-on-five (where things are a little more active) Chabot still leads the league at over 20 minutes a game, but Tyson Barrie leads the Leafs and Rielly and Cody Ceci are second with just about 18 minutes a night. Barrie is playing half a shift more, so maybe set down the torches and pitchforks on that ice time outrage. Rielly’s big minutes are coming from a lot of power play time, but nothing like John Carlson’s 4.5 minutes, and some PK time, but nothing like Ceci’s 3.5 minutes. Ceci, who is nearly playing as much as Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev for the Sens has been the main PK defender, but Travis Dermott stepped up in his first game back with almost four minutes. Dermott’s return should help to manage Rielly’s usage through this injury, but Jake Muzzin’s exit sure won’t.
Muzzin left Tuesday’s game after an altercation with Tom Wilson, that’s hard to see:
Tom Wilson being Tom Wilson #Leafs x #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/zq2YOTxTdi— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) October 29, 2019
A closer look at the Tom Wilson hit. You can see Jake Muzzin's leg get knicked in the process #Leafs x #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/pYbpBD3dUJ— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) October 29, 2019
Mike Babcock told reporters after the game that it was a charley horse, and his return to the lineup wasn’t certain. No more solid information was given on Wednesday where Muzzin was not at practice.
Martin Marincin skated in Muzzin’s spot, but he also made an appearance in 31 Thoughts, where Elliotte Friedman simply said “the Leafs would move [him]”. Anyone watching how the extra defenders outside the top four has been used shouldn’t be surprised. The Leafs gave Marincin a lot of opportunities, but his ice time topped out at 13:46 in all-situations on opening night, and has been in stark decline since. He played last on October 21 against Columbus, another overtime loss for the Leafs. He was pulled out of the regular shift rotation about halfway through that game and Justin Holl doubled shifted with Tyson Barrie in a double-righty pair. That seemed like a definitive end to Marincin’s Leafs career.
The Leafs are currently sitting at 23 on the active roster, and since John Tavares has never been on IR, they don’t have to do anything to activate him. With Marincin still around, they have six healthy defenders (relatively speaking) if Muzzin needs to miss Saturday’s game. The Leafs come right back home after the trip to Philadelphia and play without serious travel until they go to Vegas on November 19.
By then, we hope Zach Hyman will be back on the roster and three players will need to be cut. It’s obvious now that Martin Marincin needs to pull off a miracle to not be one of them. The same goes for Nic Petan.
If the Leafs choose Justin Holl as their permanent number six, and move Marincin out, that leaves open the possibility that they plan to run their 21-man roster with a forward as the extra player and Gravel as the first name called if they need a defender.
When we know more on Muzzin, Marincin and Tavares, we’ll tell you.