Mike Babcock has a fairly simple wish for his Maple Leafs defencemen, and the Jake Muzzin-Nikita Zaitsev pair in particular.
“Just to play hard,” the Leafs coach said on Monday. “Muzz moves the puck for him and Z competes. Z closes better than anybody on our team, has better edges and is better defensively that way than anybody else. Gives (up) less time and space.
“Both are not going to be backed off by anybody. As a pair, they seemed to move the puck good enough that we’re not spending a ton of time in our own zone. That is critical for us to have success.”
Muzzin, as the lone major acquisition made by general manager Kyle Dubas in the weeks leading up to the NHL trade deadline, knows the spotlight on him will be more intense as the series against the Boston Bruins unfolds. Muzzin would rather just blend in.
“I don’t really look at it like I’m ‘the’ guy,” Muzzin said. “I’m a part of the puzzle in this room. As far as looking at it like ‘let’s see what Muzzin can do,’ I’m new, but … I just want to go out and do my job and help the team win.”
In 30 games with the Leafs after he was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings, Muzzin had five goals and 11 assists and was plus-11. His Corsi rating was 53.9%, fourth among all Leafs.
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