Morgan Rielly Knee Injury Puts Toronto Maple Leafs’ Defence in Spotlight

Morgan Rielly Knee Injury Puts Toronto Maple Leafs’ Defence in Spotlight
© USA Today

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ defence is looking like Swiss cheese going into  tonight’s game against the streaking New Jersey Devils, at the Prudential Center, starting at 7 p.m. ET.

Yesterday came the news that Morgan Rielly is going to be out long-term after sustaining a knee injury in a collision with the New York Islanders’ Kyle Palmieri during New York’s 3-2 overtime win in Toronto on Monday.

Last Thursday, the Leafs lost 3-2 in overtime to the Devils in Toronto. That was one game in that 13-game unbeaten streak the Devils are currently on. Who predicted before the season that New Jersey would be this good?

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Commitment to Team Defence

On Monday, John Tavares scored a power play goal, and Auston Matthews scored Toronto’s second goal of the game. 

Mitch Marner extended his point streak to 13 games (18 points – three goals, 15 assist). Marner tied the longest point streak of his NHL career. 

Matthews and William Nylander extended their point streak during the game as well. Matthews extended his point streak to five games (seven points – three goals, four assists).

The team has the sixth-best power play in the NHL, at 28.1% and are tied for seventh in the league in goals against per game, at 2.70. As head coach Sheldon Keefe said, that speaks to a commitment to team defence.

That’s all well and good, but their top three defencemen are now out – Reilly and Jake Muzzin with long-term injuries, and T.J. Brodie, who reportedly had a setback trying to nurse an oblique injury (a total of $18.12 million in salaries).

Jordie Benn skated in his 600th career NHL game on Monday and has been solid filling in. But the Leafs are now reaching into the AHL Marlies squad for replacements. Mac Hollowell and Victor Mete have been called up for tonight.

Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren, Justin Holl and 38-year-old Mark Giordano will be expected to do more. Sandin spoke today about how well he and Liljegren played together on Monday. 

Trade Talk Heats Up in Toronto

If their play slips, and with Rielly out for at least six weeks, crank up the trade rumours.

That explains the lessor deal the Leafs pulled off this afternoon with Arizona for Conor Timmins (6-foot-9 AHL prospect C Curtis Douglas going the other way).

Timmins just finished a conditioning stint with Tucson of the AHL after another stint with injuries. He played for the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds with Sandin, if that means anything (don’t forget that Leafs general manager Dubas used to be the GM of that team and Keefe coached it). 

Timmins makes $850,000, and his deal ends this summer. He played on the 2018 Canada World Junior gold-medal winning team. The Coyotes likely assumed Timmins would never clear waivers, so opted to get something back for him. 

A lot of Leafs fans were hoping for the Coyotes’ 6-foot-2 defenceman Jakob Chychrun, who’s on the trade block (reports have the Coyotes holding out for two first round picks for him), but Dubas is astutely playing on the fringes until he sees how his D corps tonight plays out. That’s far too high a price to pay for Chychrun, who’s been injury-prone and last season was at -20, seven goals and 14 assists in just 47 games. 

Best Bets for Leafs-Devils Game

For tonight, DraftKings has the moneyline at Leafs +115, Devils -135, and the goal line at Leafs +1.5, Devils -1.5. 

The Over 6.5 has got 73% of the handle, 71% of the bets, they report. 

A lot of that as well is coming down to the Leafs starting goaltender Matt Murray (2-1, 2.76 GAA, .913 save percentage) tonight, who’s been strong in three starts since returning from injury.

FanDuel reports the Leafs (+110) have received 55% of the moneyline stakes against the Devils.