The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to bounce back from arguably their worst defensive effort of the season and will embark without life without defenseman Morgan Rielly, as the Leafs take on the New Jersey Devils at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday. The Leafs have lost three straight games after the end of their 10-game consecutive points streak and have a precarious one point lead on third place in the Atlantic Division.
Toronto recalled defenseman Rasmus Sandin from the AHL Toronto Marlies on Monday. The 19-year-old had two assists for the Leafs in six games earlier in the season and believes he is more confident after playing regularly with the Marlies and being named the top defenseman at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic earlier this month.
"I think I gained some confidence since getting sent down and going to World Juniors, so I feel prepared and I'm looking forward to tonight." Sandin said. "I think (Sheldon Keefe and I) have good communication, we just talked a little bit this morning, and I think we'll keep communicating out there on what he wants me to do and what I'm doing well."
As much as the Leafs are looking for Sandin to step in, the burden will be spread over the entire blueline, as third-year veteran Travis Dermott, Justin Holl, Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, and Martin Marincin will take on more responsibilities and ice time over the next two months.
"I think it's just added opportunity for everyone." Dermott said on Tuesday morning. "(We) just want to prove it to ourselves that we can do this now in this time and then when they get back, we'll just be that much stronger."
The pairings are expected to be Dermott with Holl, Sandin with Ceci, and Marincin with Barrie, but Keefe indicated that he could do some fine tuning if necessary going forward.
"I would say(the pairings are) fluid at this point, we're probably starting with that, we're gonna see how it goes.” Keefe said. “We've got some question marks there right how is Sandin is going to mesh with Ceci, who he has never played with. And how does it affect the other pairs."
Rielly emerged from the locker room on crutches and his left foot in a cast to speak to the media, and was philosophical in regards to the injury and returning to the lineup as soon as possible. The 25-year-old defenseman was dealing with another nagging injury before fracturing his foot blocking a shot in Florida on Sunday, and will be looking to be completely healthy and return at full strength before the playoffs.
"(It's) just part of the journey I guess. It happens to everyone, I'm not going to be overly dramatic about it, it is what it is. We've got a great training staff (and) great doctors, so I'm not worried. I'm just going to work hard and try to get back." Rielly said. "You can put a spin on it, I've been doing that. You try to take an opportunity to rest, heal other injuries, do what you can to prepare mentally to get back and be in a good place and help the team, that's the end goal.
I don't know what the time frame is, it's a bit sensitive in terms of how the healing process goes, but I just want to get back and be healthy and help the team."
The club also recalled defenseman Timothy Liljegren from the Marlies on Tuesday, but Keefe indicated that there are no plans for the 20-year-old to get into the lineup this week before the Leafs take an eight-day bye week/NHL All-Star break.
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