NEW YORK -- Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin had to carve his way through 36 cm of snowfall to make it to the team's practice facility in Etobicoke on Monday. Although he was no different than his teammates and staff who battled the wintery conditions that forced closures of schools and highways, Muzzin also had to deal with the lingering effects of a hit he took from in Saturday's 6-5 win against the St. Louis Blues.
"It rocked me kind of pretty good a little bit," Muzzin said following practice. "It definitely startled me the rest of that shift, for sure."
It turns out the hit more than just rocked him.
He did not take part in Tuesday's practice and head coach Sheldon Keefe later disclosed that the veteran defenseman had been diagnosed with a concussion. Muzzin will miss at least the team's next two games in New York against the Rangers and Islanders.
"Jake, yesterday after practice, just reported that he wasn't feeling quite right," Keefe said. "He took that hit in the game against St. Louis. So they were monitoring for that but he felt was ok and good to practice (Monday). Through the intensity of the practice, he wasn't liking how he was feeling."
The play in question occurred in the second period of Saturday's game when Muzzin retrieved the puck behind Toronto's net. He lost control of it as Blues forward Klim Kostin came in for a hit.
Muzzin appears to hit his head along the glass and showed visible signs of being "rocked" as he put it. Ryan O'Reilly scored the second of his two goals just seconds after the hit.
Despite not feeling great after practice on Monday, Muzzin held court with the media shortly afterward. He didn't suggest anything was amiss with his health and instead directed the blame at himself when asked about paring up with rookie Timothy Liljegren and the miscues that led to the team allowing three of the give goals against while they were on the ice.
"I wasn't very good either, I gotta be better for him for sure," Muzzin said. "Especially an older guy trying to help out a younger guy. He was fine, most of it was on me."
Liljegren will pair up with close friend and fellow countryman Rasmus Sandin on the middle pair when they take on the New York Rangers on Wednesday night, while Muzzin stayed back in Toronto to recover.
The excuse was handed on a silver platter for Muzzin, but it speaks to his character that he chose not to go in that direction. When he struggled at times this year, he refused to make excuses.
When the Maple Leafs suffered an embarrassing 7-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins back in October, After he was on the ice for four of Pittsburgh's goals and looked out of sorts, Muzzin was asked after the game if he was 100 percent healthy.
"I'm good," he said.
While that was likely the case the out was there and he refused to take it.
What's more troubling is that the concussion spotter in St. Louis didn't pull Muzzin out for protocol following the hit from Kostin. He clearly looked a bit shaken up. In fact, the spotter in the game pulled Kyle Clifford into concussion protocol after a hit that Keefe admitted he didn't see.
But none of this takes away from the fact that Muzzin has struggled this season.
"I think there's some inconsistencies there, particularly with the puck and that's when things have gone bad for him," Keefe said of Muzzin's game on Monday. "He's as committed as anyone to improving his game and is aware of what he's going through and the fact that he's got more to give us and better to give us as anyone on our team. I'm not worried about that aspect of it, but certainly something we've continued to talk about."
As much as Muzzin has struggled, the team has performed well overall. The Leafs are 22-5-2 in their last 29 games and there is plenty of hockey left to play this season.
In the second season of a four-year contract that carries an annual salary-cap hit of $5.625 million, the 32-year-old Muzzin has been a stabilizing presence in the top-four since he was acquired by Toronto in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 28, 2019.
He added a much-needed physical presence in his first playoff series with the Leafs against the Boston Bruins in 2019. Although his team fell short in that series, Muzzin brought an element of experience on the blueline the Leafs had lacked up until that point.
In the subsequent playoff years that followed, Muzzin was out of action for deciding games of both opening-round series due to different injuries. A healthy Muzzin could have put the team over the edge in winning their first playoff round since 2004.
As Muzzin gets older, his mission to keep up with the best in this league becomes increasingly difficult. An above 50 percent possession player for much of his career, his numbers have slowly declined with each season.
Muzzin has plenty of time this season to try and figure out his issues with the puck. They just need to get it squared away come playoff time.
Whatever happens, Muzzin won't be making excuses.