The return of Travis Dermott had a lot of fans excited, as the defense core would be rounded out at long last. An unfortunate injury to Jake Muzzin has delayed this, but the group is looking more solid… thanks to Justin Holl.
Cancel the season for the rest of the league, Justin Holl has finally emerged as the defensive stud the Leafs need on the back end! I’m not going this far, but Holl has gone from extra defenseman to contributing factor in a short period of time and has helped the Leafs start November a lot better than October finished.
The Bottom Pair Seems Set
The fact that Holl was completely overlooked to make the roster should prove just how impressive it is that he has seemingly cemented himself into the starting team less than one month into the season. With the likes of Kevin Gravel, Martin Marincin, Ben Harpur, and even Rasmus Sandin all playing for this position, Holl was the forgotten man.
At 27 years old, though, it’s understandable. Last season Holl played in just 11 games all year, sticking in the press box and showing up to practice rather than contributing in games. He has surpassed this already with 13 games played and has put up a respectable +4 rating while chipping in three assists along the way. While he isn’t the fastest skater like Morgan Rielly or Tyson Barrie, Holl is calm on the puck and his patience allows him to make the right play rather than forcing a mistake.
With Travis Dermott back, many believe his stint on the bottom pairing will be short-lived. He is a left-shot defenseman, but his strong defensive play and ability to outlet the puck at an elite level has fans pegging him for the top pairing beside Morgan Rielly sooner rather than later despite his handedness. That’s fine, but until then limited minutes and solid matchups will help him get up to speed.
Holl’s Marquee Moment
His ascendence to the level of “solid NHL player” was never more apparent than in his 12th game. Quite symbolic, too, as he passed his aforementioned 11 games played bar set last season in this matchup too. The Leafs took the Washington Capitals to overtime in an eventual loss. Holl, however, proved a selfless difference-maker two times in overtime despite Ovechkin putting a laserbeam past him.
Morgan Rielly at 19:47 TOI (7:49 on PP) ….
Tyson Barrie 13:21 (4:17 PP)
Justin Holl 11:54 (3:00 SH)
Cody Ceci 11:37 (3:18 SH)
Travis Dermott 8:57 (2:52 SH)
Muzzin (leg) left after 4:22 TOI in first
— Kevin McGran (@kevin_mcgran) October 30, 2019
Thrice on a 4-3 penalty kill in overtime Alexander Ovechkin got the perfect pass for his left circle one-timer and on two occasions Holl didn’t flinch out of the way when it came roaring towards him, blocking the two howitzers before the third broke through. He was the only player who tried to stop the inevitable one-timer from Ovechkin and his rise to the Leafs regular roster was punctuated with this play.