The Toronto Maple Leafs made a bit of a misstep in rushing Jake Muzzin back to the fold for the second half of a back-to-back in Florida.
Given their strong showing in Tampa, the Toronto Maple Leafs should have kept their defensive pairings untouched versus the Florida Panthers.
Let’s not forget, after all, that Jake Muzzin was returning from a couple of quite nasty concussions and was certainly carrying a little bit of rust.
To throw him out against the most prolific goal scoring side in the NHL this season was the wrong decision, especially given it was his return game after two months away from competitive action.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Muzzin Back Too Soon
Simply put, Jake Muzzin looked a little bit off the pace against the Florida Panthers. Despite scoring a goal in his return game, he still didn’t quite look comfortable with his game.
In fact, it’s fair to say that the Toronto Maple Leafs even dropped the wrong player by sitting Ilya Lyubushkin, with the Russian defenseman already having staked his place as a hard-hitting defenseman.
Jake Muzzin once held that crown within the Leafs line-up, but might have found himself supplanted a little. The big challenge the Toronto Maple Leafs face right now is the simple fact that breaking up strong, effective pairings can effect the whole team’s chemistry.
Of course, the injury to Erik Kallgren upset the team’s rhythm midway through the Panthers fixture, but equally Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl looked slightly uncomfortable in their first game back together.
At even-strength, the duo were heavily out-matched allowing 27 chances against (per Natural Stat Trick), and while the duo were on the ice for just 1 goal for and 1 against at even-strength, it’s fair to say they made it quite challenging for Kallgren and Campbell (in reserve).
A lot of their challenges come from the fact that the duo faced the most defensive-zone faceoffs, clearly seeing the hardest assignments at even-strength.
Sam Bennett and Jonathan Huberdeau certainly aren’t the easiest players to be facing off against in your first game back after two months away. Given the Toronto Maple Leafs next game on the schedule is against the Dallas Stars, you’d have to think it would’ve been a slightly safer game to bring Jake Muzzin back for.
Both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers play very high-octane offensive games. The Dallas Stars, by comparison, are a much slower-paced side which would’ve allowed Muzzin to ease back in slightly more gently.
It wouldn’t have been the worst thing to bring Muzzin along for the Florida road-trip but not play him. Tell him in advance that Dallas is his return game and allow the defensive pairings to hopefully ride high on the strong result versus the reigning champions.
Hindsight is 20/20 though and the Toronto Maple Leafs chose a different path and essentially threw away a point in the fight for top seed in the Atlantic Division.