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Jake Muzzin is taking another step toward returning to the Maple Leafs lineup.
The Leafs announced on Thursday that Muzzin, who suffered a broken right foot in a game against the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 27, has been assigned to the Toronto Marlies on a conditioning loan.
The goal for Muzzin, the Leafs’ most physical defenceman and one whose presence on the ice and in the room has been missed, has been to return to the Leafs lineup on Monday in Nashville against the Predators. The Marlies play a pair of games in Cleveland on Friday and Saturday against the Monsters.
In the 10 games Muzzin has missed, the Leafs have gone 4-3-3.
Muzzin has not played in the American Hockey League since the 2012-13 season, when he played for Manchester, the Los Angeles Kings’ affiliate.
The Muzzin news comes a day after the Leafs announced centre Auston Matthews will not participate in any on-ice events at the NHL all-star weekend as he receives acute treatment for an ongoing wrist condition. Matthews is listed as day to day.
Forward Trevor Moore, coming back from a concussion, was loaned to the Marlies on a conditioning stint last week.
The Leafs, who still have defenceman Morgan Rielly (foot) and winger Ilya Mikheyev (wrist) recovering from injuries, will face an uphill battle once their bye week and the all-star break ends.
Thanks to a streak that saw them win once in their final six games before the break — and watching as the teams around them in the standings continued to win — the Leafs will find themselves in a playoff hole once the schedule resumes on Monday.
The Leafs, with 57 points, are four behind the Florida Panthers for third place in the Atlantic Division, and are four points behind the Carolina Hurricanes for the second wildcard in the Eastern Conference.
Between the Leafs and the second wildcard are the Philadelphia Flyers, who have 60 points.
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