Rick Zamperin: Maple Leafs' already leaky blueline takes another hit

As if things couldn’t get any worse for the suddenly slumping Toronto Maple Leafs.

The news on Monday hit the team like a Mack truck: star defenceman Morgan Rielly will miss the next eight weeks with a broken foot.

Rielly, who had been battling a lower body injury since training camp, got hurt when he blocked a shot during the first period of Toronto’s 8-4 loss against the Florida Panthers on Sunday night.

The 25-year-old ended up playing the rest of the game, but Rielly underwent a CT scan Monday afternoon and received the bad news.

It’s a big loss for the Leafs. Rielly has amassed 27 points in 46 games this season while leading the team in average ice time per game (24:15).

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To make matters worse, Toronto — losers of their last three games by a combined score of 18-11 — are already without defenceman Jake Muzzin, who suffered a broken foot of his own on Dec. 29.

On Tuesday night, the Leafs host the New Jersey Devils, a team that is third last in the Eastern Conference and has scored the fourth fewest goals in the league this season — so it’s unlikely that Toronto’s defensive holes will be exposed as much as they will be when they face the NHL’s better offensive teams.

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Rielly’s injury puts more pressure on the entire Leafs D-corps. It pressures Tyson Barrie to produce more offensively, puts Travis Dermott into a much bigger spotlight, challenges Justin Holl, Cody Ceci and Martin Marincin to elevate their game, and throws rookie Rasmus Sandin into the fire.

Luckily for the Maple Leafs, they have one of the league’s most prolific offences, which — more often than not — allows them to mask their defensive problems.

But with their propensity to forget how to play in their own zone, Toronto’s depleted blueline could very well cost them some much-needed points down the stretch and challenge the club’s standing as a top three team in the Atlantic Division.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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