Just when it looked like the Toronto Maple Leafs were starting to get healthy again, Joffrey Lupul left a game with a groin injury.
Lupul is out with a Grade 2 groin strain and isn’t travelling with the team on their upcoming three-game road trip. He suffered the injury during the 6-0 blowout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was the same game Tyler Bozak returned in after being out of action for 12 games.
Losing Lupul is a big loss for the Maple Leafs as he’s the leader of the team’s second line, playing behind Phil Kessel‘s line. Lupul is depended on to lead the team’s secondary scoring and take pressure off the team’s top line to produce. He’s done a great job of providing secondary offense to start the season, picking up 15 points in 22 games.
Lupul also seems to have a knack for helping spark his linemates to start producing offensively. An unselfish player, Lupul likes to set up his teammates for scoring opportunities just as much as he likes putting the puck in the net. He’s helped Kessel get out of slumps in the past, and has really helped Nazem Kadri grow comfortable with the NHL game as the two often play together on the second line.
Just recently, he also helped minor league call-up Trevor Smith record a 3-point night when the team was without it’s top three centers in Bozak, Kadri and Dave Bolland.
Losing an offensive talent like Lupul right before a three-game road trip will really test the team’s forward depth. Given that Lupul does a lot of the little things needed to win games, he’s not an easy player to replace. It’s not like the Maple Leafs are losing a goal-scorer and just need somebody to find the back of the net more. Lupul can score, set up teammates, play on both special teams, provide a shutdown role, and he’s effective along the boards at digging out pucks or keeping the play alive in the offensive zone.
Luckily for Toronto, Mason Raymond has done a marvelous job playing up and down the lineup all season. Raymond has played on each of the top three lines for the Maple Leafs, proving that his versatility is a valuable asset. Raymond will replace Lupul on the second line, and Toronto will need him to produce if they want to have success on the road trip.
Like Lupul, Raymond can play on either special teams and although he’s not as physical as Lupul, he makes up a lack of hitting with his skating ability.
It’s unclear when Lupul will return, but it appears that it’ll be at least a week before he’s back in the lineup. The Maple Leafs have done a good job of surviving when they’ve lost their centers for most of November, but overcoming Lupul’s loss will be an entirely different battle. He’s been depended on in key defensive situations, and he’s also been put on the ice when the team is desperate for a goal.
Since arriving in Toronto, Lupul has developed a tendency for scoring big goals in key moments.
Arguably the Maple Leafs’ second-best forward behind Kessel, losing a key-offensive weapon like Lupul right before a road trip only makes the situation worse, considering goals on the road can be hard to come by. The Maple Leafs have already proven they can overcome injuries this season, and they’ll only continued being tested with Lupul set to miss time.