For me, Justin Holl is a puzzling defenseman. He’s an enigma.
Recently, he’s been playing great hockey. In part, that’s because he’s been paired with veteran Mark Giordano on the Maple Leafs’ first pairing. When Jake Muzzin did not suffer from a plethora of different injuries and was on his game, he and Holl were known as the shutdown pairing on the team. That really wasn’t that long ago – maybe just two years.
How the Maple Leafs’ defence has been reshaped in those two seasons.
Without Giordano and/or Muzzin, Holl Has Struggled
In the interim between being paired with Giordano and when Muzzin was in his prime, Holl has struggled. I wonder if Holl has difficulties when he’s in a situation where he feels he has to try to do too much or feels there’s a lot of responsibility on him to perform. In those situations, he falters a bit. And, when he makes a mistake or two, and then loses his confidence.
One thing I’ve noticed about Holl is that, when he makes a mistake, it seems to be so out in the open that no one can miss it. His errors are glaring. Fans see them and think he’s a poor player.
However, when Holl is paired with a stronger partner, he seems able to play within his abilities. He can use his size and physicality. He isn’t afraid to hit and, for the moment of that hit, take himself temporarily out of the play. Perhaps he knows his defensive partner will cover for him and that makes him bolder on the ice.
Maple Leafs Fans Have Seen Holl’s A-Game Recently
Maple Leafs’ fans have seen Holl’s A-Game recently. In my time covering the Maple Leafs, I believe this is the best hockey that Holl has played. It could not have come at a better time.
What the team has in Holl is a middle-pairing, shut-down defenseman who eats up more than 23 minutes a game on a $2 million value contract. He’s showing how important he can be especially during this time when the Maple Leafs have been working with a patchwork, depleted defensive corps.
Holl’s importance to the team could not be more emphasized than during this period of time when the defence is depleted. With so many young players without much experience – think Mac Hollowell – trying hard to survive on the ice without making glaring errors themselves, it matters that Holl munches upwards of 24 minutes per game.
The Bottom Line with Justin Holl
The bottom line with Holl is that, when he plays within his abilities, is reliable, steady, and dependable. He has an “A” game! There are very few NHL defensemen who provide so much value for so little money.