Maple Leafs’ defense gets some help with Muzzin return

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Finally some good news for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ defense.

The team announced on Monday that it has activated defenseman Jake Muzzin from injured reserve ahead of their game against the Nashville Predators.

Muzzin, 31, has not played since Dec. 27 due to a foot injury.

He is one of the Maple Leafs’ best defensive players, and it is not a coincidence that the team struggled in his absence, winning just four of the 10 games. When combined with the recent injury to Morgan Rielly it left the Maple Leafs without two of their top-three defensemen. That is going to be a problem for any team, but especially one that is already lacking defensively even when it is fully healthy.

Muzzin is one of the 10 players we identified as being able to play a big role in the second half playoff race.

His return comes at a pretty good time for a Maple Leafs team that still has a lot of work to do in the second half if it is going to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Even with their improved play under new coach Sheldon Keefe (the league’s sixth-best record since Keefe took over) they still enter Monday’s game four points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They do have a little bit of an opportunity to make some noise over the next couple of weeks as only four of the next 11 games come against teams currently in a playoff position. One of those games is against the Florida Panthers, the team directly above them in the Atlantic Division standings.

The Maple Leafs acquired Muzzin exactly one year ago from the Los Angeles Kings. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season, but said on Monday he would love to re-sign with the Maple Leafs.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.