moment of zen

Maple Leafs defense with Jake Muzzin out one month
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Can Maple Leafs survive on defense with Muzzin out one month?

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A season of extremes continues for the Maple Leafs, as their defense must find answers with Jake Muzzin out about one month. Muzzin broke his hand blocking a shot, souring Tuesday’s otherwise sweet win against the Lightning.

Everything about the timing fits the soap opera narrative of “As the Maple Leaf turns …”

  • Toronto lost Muzzin for a month in the first game after signing him to a contract extension.
  • It’s also the first game following a trade deadline that mixed the good with the bad. On one hand, it turns out that keeping Tyson Barrie was wise, warts and all. On the other, GM Kyle Dubas’ critics will argue that he still didn’t do enough.
  • Oh yeah, the Maple Leafs follow up this potentially devastating injury with an enormous Thursday game against the Panthers in Florida.

Woof. Dubas is a different cat, so naturally he tweeted out this very Zen approach to dealing with the Muzzin news.

(If you’re like me, you’re imagining Dubas trying to meditate after being thrown under the bus by Toronto media and fans. It’s kind of fun.)

The Maple Leafs defense has been, uh, flawed for some time now. Subtract Muzzin, and put him on an injured list that already includes Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci, and you might feel very UnDude.

Let’s take a look at the tattered remains of a Maple Leafs defense that may resemble seven wild horses.

Looking at the Maple Leafs defense with Muzzin out

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston and others shared the Maple Leafs’ defense pairings from practice:

Travis DermottJustin Holl
Rasmus Sandin – Tyson Barrie
Martin MarincinTimothy Liljegren
Extra: Calle Rosen

Do you look at that group as seven wild horses, or seven broken ones? (Don’t make any glue factory jokes, please.)

Long story short, this leaves the Maple Leafs with a relatively inexperienced group.

If you want a glimpse at Toronto’s confidence level in certain players, consider how Sheldon Keefe deployed Sandin on Tuesday. Through two periods, Sandin received just 5:27 time on ice. Once it was clear Muzzin wouldn’t return, Sandin’s ice time skyrocketed to 9:34 during the third period alone.

Dicey stuff, but what’s the best approach, Zen-like, or otherwise? What’s a good mantra for the Leafs going forward?

Accepting reality of the Maple Leafs defense with Muzzin out, and considering Panthers

Despite wildly different approaches and markets, the Maple Leafs and Panthers boast notably similar strengths and weaknesses. After all, they are the only teams in the NHL who’ve scored and allowed 200+ goals so far this season.

So maybe the Maple Leafs should embrace the perception of their most prominent, healthy defenseman in Tyson Barrie, and their perceived identity as a team that needs to outscore their problems, in general?

There’s also the potential silver lining of realizing that players like Sandin and Liljegren might be further along in their respective developments than Toronto realized. Interestingly, Dubas sort of touched on this during his trade deadline presser, before Muzzin was injured.

” … We need to see how our own guys develop,” Dubas said, via Pension Plan Puppets’ transcript. “In a perfect world your own guys develop and quell your concerns you have about the roster and that people on the outside may have about them as well.”

Both Sandin and Liljegren carry pedigree as first-rounders, and have produced some offense at the AHL level. Perhaps they can bring almost as much to the table as they risk taking away with mistakes?

Obstacles, and gauntlets thrown down on top Maple Leafs

When you dig deep on the Maple Leafs’ numbers, you get a more complicated look at their hit-and-miss defense. Either way, they need better goaltending going forward — even if that leads to awkward choices.

No, the Leafs don’t make life easy for Frederik Andersen, but he needs to improve on his .906 save percentage (his -4.25 Goals Saved Above Average points to some fault on his end).

Frankly, it might be just as important that the Maple Leafs show a willingness to turn to Jack Campbell instead. Through four games, Campbell’s generated an impressive .919 save percentage, going 3-0-1.

Of course, the onus is also on their big-money forwards. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares have mostly delivered in 2019-20, but the team needs them now more than ever.

The challenge comes in balancing attacking with supporting embattled defensemen. Not hanging them out to dry for icing infractions would be a good place to start:

If patterns continue, there will only be more twists and turns for the Maple Leafs. Maybe they can end up better after facing all of these challenges, but either way, it doesn’t look easy, and might not always be pretty.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Your moment of anti-zen: Bask in Guy Boucher’s glorious rage

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While I can’t speak from experience, being a head coach for a professional sports team certainly seems like a high-pressure job. It’s especially the case in the NHL, where every coach not named Barry Trotz or Lindy Ruff enjoys job “security” that would fail to impress a temp. (Not to mention the fact that hockey games often come down to lucky bounces and isolated errors.)

By just about all accounts, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher seems like a keeper. After the jaw-dropping flop that was the aborted Barry Melrose era and the not-much-better days of Rich Tocchet, Boucher deserves just as much credit as GM Steve Yzerman for the team’s march toward competency.

Despite the franchise’s noted disinterest in employing enforcers, Boucher still demands respect and … yes, maybe a bit of fear. He looks like a guy who can “take care of himself” even before you notice that spectacular (and mysterious?) scar on his face. Normally the coach is calm, calculated and quotable during press conferences, but a truly special moment happened in Game 3.

Boucher just flat-out lost it when Marc-Andre Bergeron received an unwarranted elbowing penalty after landing a big hit on David Krejci. Here’s a video clip of the hit, with a brief glimpse of Boucher’s reaction.

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To be fair to Boucher, his anger was justifiable. It was a bad call that had the potential to put the Lightning in an early 2-0 hole against the Boston Bruins. Thankfully, the situation didn’t get any uglier since Tampa Bay killed the penalty, so we can look back at that bad call as a source of comedy beyond anything else.

For a much longer and better look at Boucher’s festival of robust rage, enjoy this GIF of Boucher’s tirade from James Mirtle. (I’m not sure I’d say it’s “NSFW” unless everyone reads Boucher’s lips …)

Also, since we’re feeling generous, here are two more photos of Boucher’s angry reaction. (All photos via Chris O’Meara of The Associated Press.)

(Custom PHT caption: Boucher probably says a bad word.)

(Custom PHT caption: Boucher goes to the replay to further display is displeasure.)

Today’s moment of zen: Rick DiPietro’s Hockey Fights Cancer pink goalie pads

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One of the best things the NHL does each year is their dedicated work for Hockey Fights Cancer, wherein teams, players, and fans all come together to help raise money to help fund cancer research and treatment organizations. Part of that support is having players use pink-colored equipment in practice to show their support for the cause. Sometimes that equipment can be a little bit noticeable.

In Toronto this morning, Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro practiced with his fancy new gear that’s fetching and eye-catching. And by that, I mean it’s very, very pink. Photos are courtesy of the NHL . (click to enlarge)

Those are… Absolutely incredible. I’d wager that getting DiPietro or any goalie to wear those in a game would provide enough of a distraction to the opponents it’d make for a worthwhile (and charitable!) venture for someone to try out. For what it’s worth, fans can do their part to contribute to Hockey Fights Cancer by giving to any of the charities or participating in team and fan events designed to give to the cause or by purchasing special items from the NHL Shop designed specifically for Hockey Fights Cancer.

Update: Rick DiPietro tells Chris Johnston that he will, indeed, wear the pads in a game as soon as they’re broken in. I fear for the eyes of the opponent he faces off against. As it is, DiPietro will continue to wear the pads for the rest of the month as this is Hockey Fights Cancer month for the NHL.