Looking ahead at the Leafs' potential defensive pairings for the start of the playoffs

Published April 2, 2022 at 7:33 PM
BY RYAN SMITHERAM
With the Leafs essentially a lock to make the playoffs, all that is left to determine is their position in the standings. With that in mind, let's look ahead to possible defensive pairings for their first round matchup. With Muzzin close to returning (likely this week), Lyubushkin back soon as well and no update on Sandin that leaves us with 7 active defensemen to choose from.

Let's start with the given, Rielly and Lyubushkin. Since coming over from Arizona, Ilya Lyubushkin has added a much needed physical presence to Morgan Rielly's right side. He has double the amount of hits as the next Leafs defenseman and is as solid as they come in his own end. His presence has given Rielly more freedom to join the rush and take more chances offensively.

The second pairing will see the return of Jake Muzzin and should feature T.J. Brodie as the team's shutdown pairing. Both are solid defensive defensemen, but can contribute at times offensively - Muzzin moreso than Brodie. Muzzin is undoubtedly more physical than Brodie, but both are capable of clearing the front of the net. When they have been paired together this season, Muzzin has played much better than when he's been with Justin Holl.

The third paring is the Leafs' newest, but has recently been the Leafs' best with veteran Mark Giordano and rookie Timothy Liljegren. Since Giordano has joined Liljegren, Lilly has elevated his game and looks like he's played more than one season in the show. He's more patient and calm under pressure, has been more offensive minded and has added some physicality to his game as well. Giordano has provided a stable, stay at home partner with a veteran presence that has guided Liljegren to play his best hockey and it would be a shame if Keefe separated them during the playoffs.


That brings us to Holl and Sandin. Let's begin with the young Swede who has been out for a couple weeks already with a knee injury. He was playing some of his best hockey at the time of his injury, which is really unfortunate. With no updates since he was noted as being out for «weeks» it would be difficult for Keefe to throw him into any playoff action without any tune up games or at least a few weeks of practice, unless injuries pile up.

Holl, on the other hand, has had a season full of ups and downs. More downs than ups early on, but has found some success when paired with Brodie. His only saving grace may be that Keefe likes him and Muzzin together even though the fan base may not necessarily agree. We shouldn't be surprised if he starts the playoffs watching from the press box though, considering how inconsistent he has been this season.

With 3 weeks left in the regular season, this is audition time for the Leafs' blueliners, specifically that 6th spot. The battle should come down to Holl and Liljegren, as it wouldn't make much sense to have Lyubushkin or Brodie scratched when Muzzin Returns.
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