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What you need to know about COVID-19: September 17, 2020
Martin Marincin reminds me of an old pair of chewed up shoes that sits in your cupboard year after year.
You never want to wear them and you never want to throw them out.
They’re there. Just in case.
And now the Maple Leafs have their ‘just in case’ moment and they need that not-so-old pair of shoes, the player they don’t ever want to dress, the defenceman who invented the term ‘cleared waivers.’
It’s Marty Marincin to the rescue and you can’t blame Leaf Nation just a little bit if someone out there isn’t holding his or her breath.
The juxtaposition of Tuesday night at the Scotiabank Arena couldn’t have been more distinct. Morgan Rielly slid the puck into an empty and looked like he was going to cry. The win, in that moment, didn’t seem most important. Jake Muzzin was on the mind of every Leafs player and just about every Leafs fan. A most complete victory in Game 2 against Columbus — a strong, dominant outing — was on emotional hold after Muzzin, late in the game, was taken from the ice and directly to hospital.
The past 24 hours for all Leafs players wasn’t just about winning, and resting and getting ready for Game 3 the way it normally would be. Playoff hockey, in or out of a bubble, doesn’t change that way. You meet. You practise. You play. You watch video. You prepare. You eat. You meet some more. And you rest.
That’s the way it works most of the time. But after Tuesday night, as the Leafs returned to the grand old Royal York Hotel, there had to be worry. There had to be concern. There had to be calls made to Muzzin’s wife, to his parents, perhaps.
It wasn’t until late in the night that Muzzin had cleared his tests, had all his extremities moving, that anyone exhaled.
And now there’s a hockey game to play without the Leafs defenceman who most translates to playoff leader and champion.
And Marincin is going in to try and take some of Muzzin’s shifts. And probably Rasmus Sandin will be in the Leafs’ lineup because the math in this equation works out that seven defencemen are better than six.
It’s three full years — four hockey seasons — since Marincin last played a playoff game for the Leafs. You may remember the game. You may not want to.
It was Game 6 against the Washington Capitals. Mike Foligno, father of Columbus captain Nick Foligno, was scouting the game for the expansion Vegas team. From his press box, Foligno grimaced over and over again about the plays being made, and not being made, by Marincin and how much he was hurting the Leafs.
And it was clear from the way he spoke that Vegas had no intention of selecting Marincin in the expansion draft.Which seems to be the way things go pretty much every year in the NHL.
That night, the very young Leafs lost to a very good Washington Capitals team, 2-1 in overtime. Marincin was on the ice and at least partially responsible for both goals scored in their elimination.
He hasn’t played a Stanley Cup playoff game since.
You could almost hear Foligno at the time, saying: ‘Told you so. He can’t play at this level.’
And now he has to play because Muzzin is hurt and out for the series and frankly, the Leafs don’t have anyone else to turn to who can kill penalties effectively.
That’s probably what Marincin does best. He is 6-foot-5 , carries a long stick and takes up space but isn’t particularly mobile. If he is smart and disciplined and plays between the dots, he can probably be effective in his own kind of way. The worry has to be: How will he deal with the Columbus forecheck? How will he deal with the Blue Jackets cycle game? Will his limited mobility and rather ordinary instincts hurt the Leafs in any way?
Toronto entered this year’s playoffs with enough issues on defence. Cody Ceci is nobody’s favourite player. Considering the past, Tyson Barrie had a challenging regular season, but so far has been better than OK in the two games against Columbus. Rielly had an excellent Game 2 after a somewhat reluctant Game 1. Justin Holl and Travis Dermott, who played together on the Marlies championship team and got back together late this season when Muzzin and others were hurt, are now back together.
“Everyone,” said Zach Hyman in February, “is cheering for these guys. We need them. We need them now.”
Holl and Dermott. Rielly and Ceci. Barrie and Marincin. Gulp!
Muzzin is like that part of the engine of a vehicle you need to operate your car smoothly. The car will run without it. Just not effectively and not for very long.
Marincin will likely play in the defensive zone and kill penalties in Game 3.
Maybe young Sandin will replace him in the offensive zone. The options are there for coach Sheldon Keefe.
This isn’t the defence he’d like to play. It’s the defence he has to play.
A little bit of polish can make some difference in those chewed up shoes.
Maybe for one night. Maybe more. You don’t want them to stand out. You don’t want to notice Martin Marincin.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020