Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly fires a shot towards the net
Photo credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Maple Leafs updates: Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, Monday's lineup

Published April 1, 2024 at 11:27
BY MIKE ARMENTI

After a day off on Sunday, the Toronto Maple Leafs are back in action on Monday evening as they take on the Florida Panthers. The Leafs have endured injury-after-injury this season, so it was a breath of fresh air to see that a few players back on the ice for Monday's morning skate, Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly among them.

Marner suffered what reporters have called a high-ankle sprain back on March 7th, though Marner himself would not confirm nor deny those reports over the weekend. Marner was content to simply tell reporters to say whatever they want to say about his injury, stating that his focus is clearly on his recovery and getting back into the lineup so he can help his teammates in any way that he can with the playoffs fast approaching. Marner had recently been placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), retroactive to March 7th, to give the Leafs some additional flexibility to recall another defenseman. More on that below.


The Leafs have won back-to-back games against the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres after being trounced by the New Jersey Devils on home ice at Scotiabank Arena last Tuesday in what Sheldon Keefe called an "immature" loss to a very beatable opponent. The Devils are not projected to make the playoffs this season, posting a disappointing 36-34-4 record this season, just one year after going 52-22-8 last season and finishing 3rd in the Eastern Conference and 3rd in the overall league standings. The Florida Panthers are better than all of these teams, though, so if the Leafs want to have any hope of beating the Cats, they'll have to come to play right from puck drop and avoid digging themselves an early hole, because the Panthers don't give up much. In fact, the Panthers have allowed the fewest goals of any team in the league this season at 182. They also have the 3rd-best goal differential in the league at a +57 this season.


The Leafs have gone 2-1-0 over their last 3 games while Morgan Rielly has been sidelined with a mysterious upper-body injury, continuing their run of exceptional play without their top defenseman. As you'll recall, the Leafs went on a 5-0 run earlier this season after Rielly had been suspended 5 games for a cross-check to the head and neck area of Ottawa Senators forward Ridly Grieg after Grieg had wound up for a full clapper into an empty net against the Leafs back on February 10th.

This past week, Sheldon Keefe had told the media that Rielly has been making excellent progress in his recovery and that his injury isn't something that is expected to hamper him in any way moving forward, stating that when Rielly is healed, there's no real concern of a risk of re-injury in the same area. Nevertheless, even though the details of his injury are shrouded in mystery, it was good to see him on the ice for the morning skate on Monday.


Following the morning skate, Keefe confirmed that Rielly is still day-to-day and is close to being 100%, so by the sounds of things, Rielly will not be in the lineup tonight when the Leafs take on the Panthers. Keefe did confirm, though, that the plan is to have Rielly get into a full practice tomorrow, ahead of Wednesday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Getting Rielly back in time for that one would provide a huge boost in an important divisional game with some major playoff implications. The Lightning are just 4 points back of the Leafs for 3rd in the Atlantic Division and will play the Leafs twice in their remaining 9 games. Both have the potential to be huge swing games for both teams. If they split those 2 games, they'll be net even, but if either team wins both games, it could be the difference between finishing 3rd in the Atlantic or in the top Wild Card spot.


The Leafs are taking no chances with all of the injuries of late, announcing a recall from the AHL's Toronto Marlies to give them an extra body on the blueline ahead of Monday's clash with the Panthers.



The Leafs had Toronto Marlies defenseman Marshall Rifai with the team at Monday's optional skate. This is the second time in 3 days that the Leafs have recalled Rifai from the Marlies, as they had done ahead of Saturday's game in Buffalo to ensure that if they needed an extra body on the blueline, they had one. Rifai did not play on Saturday, but he did take part in warmups.


Rifai has been utilized by the Leafs already this season, once against the St. Louis Blues on February 19th and again against the Arizona Coyotes on February 21st, when the Leafs' blueline was banged up and Rielly was suspended. He averaged just 11:39 in ice time across those two games, but Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe was very complementary of the rookie defenseman, stating that he was "steady" and that he didn't notice any real mistakes in Rifai's game. That had to feel good for the 26-year-old undrafted defenseman, who has put in a lot of work to get to where he is now.

Sheldon Keefe does not want to mess with a good thing after his team's dominant 3-0 win over the Sabres on Saturday night.



Tonight's game against Florida is an interesting one for the Leafs. If Sheldon Keefe's crew can come out and pull off the upset and take down the Panthers in regulation, they'll move to within 4 points of the Cats with 1 game in hand. A late-season surge by the Leafs and a late-season dip by the Panthers could result in the Leafs skating into the playoffs in possession of the 2nd spot in the Atlantic, securing home ice advantage for Round 1.

With a lot on the line tonight, Keefe has confirmed that he'll go with the same lineup that beat the Sabres on Saturday in an attempt to ride the wave of confidence.

Bertuzzi-Matthews-Domi
McMann-Tavares-Nylander
Knies-Holmberg-Robertson
Dewar-Kampf-Reaves

Brodie-Lyubushkin
McCabe-Benoit
Giordano-Timmins


Keefe also confirmed on Monday that Ilya Samsonov will get the start in this one after posting an incredible 34-save shutout in Buffalo. As Leafs depth forward Ryan Reaves pointed out following Monday's morning skate, the confidence that Samsonov is playing with right now has really energized the team. Reaves had this to say on Samsonov's play of late this morning:

"A goalie with swagger, a goalie with confidence is the best type of goalie. I think a quiet goalie just kind of sitting there doing nothing is not a good thing for the boys."


I don't think it will come as a surprise to anyone if Samsonov, with the way that he has played in the second half of this season, is the starting netminder for the Leafs in Game 1 of the playoffs. A statement win tonight would go a long way in securing his status as the team's number 1 goalie.
POLL
April 1   |   288 answers
Maple Leafs updates: Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, Monday's lineup

Do you think Morgan Rielly is good value for the Leafs at $7.5M per season through 2029-30?

Yes, Rielly is the heart and soul of this team13647.2 %
No, Rielly is not a $7.5M defenseman10235.4 %
He's a fair value, but not good overly good5017.4 %
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