EL SEGUNDO, Calif -- When the Toronto Maple Leafs last made their annual pilgrimage to Southern California, the night was expected to see the return of three former Kings.
They returned, but not in the way many had hoped.
Goaltender Jack Campbell and forward Kyle Clifford had been acquired by the Leafs from the Los Angeles Kings just over a month prior. Defenseman Jake Muzzin was traded to Toronto from the California club a year before that.
All three were in attendance on Mar. 5, 2020, when the Leafs visited the Kings, But two members did not play. Campbell dressed as the backup to starter Frederik Andersen, even though he made starts on the stops on the California trip in Anaheim and San Jose. Muzzin watched from the press box after he broke his hand blocking a shot from Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman over a week prior
"I wish I was out there," Muzzin recalled of that night. "But getting the love from the fans was something special."
Clifford was the only player of the three to play in the game.
On Wednesday night, Campbell and Muzzin will play in a game at StaCenter for the first time since becoming Maple Leafs. A COVID season that restricted the Leafs to play in a division of solely Canadian opponents took away the usual trip to California in 2020-'21.
"Kind of weird situation, being hurt and then COVID," Muzzin said. "There will definitely be some feelings going back in that barn. I obviously have some good memories there."
Muzzin won a Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2014 and was a 'Black Ace' during the team's 2012 run and never envisioned himself living anywhere other than Los Angeles.
He still has a home in California and his Stanley Cup rings from those runs are still there. Muzzin said he has yet to see those rings since the pandemic started but a trip to go see them was still part of his plan.
"I mean you spend a lot of time here and I grew up as a pro here," Muzzin said, as he described seeing LA scenery on the commute to the Toyota Performance Center for practice. "There's a lot of memories everywhere."
Campbell got his first start against the Kings over two weeks ago in Toronto as his team fell 5-1 to his former club. His former teammate, Jonathan Quick, made 33 saves in the win for Los Angeles.
"It's pretty natural to be pretty excited about playing against your former team," Campbell said. "I kind of got that out of the way in the last game."
Muzzin has become a regular staple on the team's second pair with Justin Holl while Campbell went from understudy in Los Angeles to starter in Toronto.
Those will be the emotional returns of Wednesday night, but there was a reunion of a different kind as Clifford joined the Maple Leafs for practice on Tuesday.
Clifford, acquired in a trade with the St. Louis Blues last week for future considerations, was called up to serve as an extra player.
"It's just a good opportunity to reintroduce him to the group," Keefe said of Clifford."
The Leafs announced Clifford's call-up just as he hit the ice and Joey Anderson came off of it. The latter was sent down to the Marlies.
Now wearing the No. 43, Clifford played a couple of games with the Marlies to get up to speed. The Leafs didn't change anything at practice so it's not expected that the player will crack the lineup anytime soon.
But on Wednesday, Campbell, Muzzin and Clifford will be back at Staples Center in exact opposite roles to that of that night on Mar. 5, 2020.
Mrazek takes part in some of practice
Goaltender Petr Mrazek put in some work before practice and took shots for the first drill during the main session before preparing the session. It was the first time he took part in any of the team's practice sessions since he was shut down with a reinjury of his groin on Nov. 7.
"Today was a good day for sure to have him back out there working," Keefe said.
He continues to increase his workload and work with goalie coach Steve Briere. The timeline for Mrazek hasn't changed as the goaltender was expected to miss a minimum of four weeks from Nov. 7.
Not settling for lack of offense in place of good defense
The Maple Leafs have quickly become one of the better defensive teams in the NHL, having allowed just 2.25 goals per game (3rd in NHL).
Offensively, the team has struggled despite having the third-best Corsi in the league (53.69 percent) while leading the league in expected goals (56.02 percent).
Instead of just expecting a reversion to the mean, Keefe has looked deeper at the chances the team is getting.