Maple Leafs’ Takeaways: Spezza, Sandin & Shutting Down Suzuki

It was a classic Saturday night matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens in Toronto and this time the Maple Leafs came out on the winning end in the second game of their first-round playoff series.

While the Maple Leafs were without John Tavares following the scary incident in Game 1, the Canadiens came into the game without the likes of Jake Evans who was forced to miss the game with an injury he suffered in the opening affair.

Riley Nash was also taken out of the Maple Leafs lineup, with Pierre Engvall and Alex Galchenyuk both slotting in, while Jesperi Kotkaniemi took to the ice for Montreal in Game 2 in place of Evans.

While the final score might have shown a 5-1 win for the Maple Leafs, the game played on the ice was much closer than some might expect. In fact, had the Maple Leafs not tallied two power play goals, it may have been more of a 3-1 game for the blue and white.

Still, it’s our job to break down the game and pick away parts that we think are integral to the outcome of this game. With that, here’s a look at what can be taken away from Game 2.

Vintage Spezza Steps Up

For those who missed it, in Game 1, Spezza continued to speak to Tavares as he was helped on the ice. Spezza mentioned that he could see that Tavares was confused, but that he seemed to be picking up on the veteran’s voice. A move, only an integral teammate would realize.

Jason Spezza Toronto Maple Leafs
Jason Spezza, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Now, fast forward to just over 12 minutes into Game 2 and the 37-year-old Spezza tallied his first goal and point in the playoffs as a member of the Maple Leafs. How you ask?

It was simple. Spezza jumped onto the ice skated into the offensive zone before wiring home a slapshot from high in the slot to tie the game. It was vintage Spezza, but his play throughout the game was far more important than just that goal.

He played over 12 minutes of ice-time. Four minutes on the team’s power play. And he had two takeaways to go along with his two hits and five shots on goal. He also had a collision near the end of the first with Corey Perry – whose shin collided with Tavares in Game 1 – that had Canadiens fans steaming on social media.

That is the definition of a veteran who came to play – and had an influence on the outcome of the game.

Sandin Making Most of Opportunity

From older to younger, Rasmus Sandin has taken over not only for Travis Dermott in the Maple Leafs lineup, but for Morgan Rielly on the top power play unit. And it’s starting to pay off.

Sandin saw 14:32 of ice-time on Saturday with just over five minutes of power play time. He had a blocked shot, a takeaway and two shots on goal – including his blast 13 minutes into period number two. It was just his second NHL goal and first in the playoffs, but it’s creating more doubt that he’ll be coming out of the Maple Leafs’ lineup anytime soon.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Matthews Praises Rasmus Sandin’s Play

Sandin’s goal was the first of two power play tallies for the Maple Leafs on Saturday on six opportunities. It was just the second time since March 3 that the Maple Leafs have scored two power play goals in a game.

While Rielly has been demoted to the second unit – for the time being – Sandin has made every effort to impress the Maple Leafs and their coaching staff. Even at just under six feet tall, Sandin has added an edge to his game making him a physical player in his own end.

He wasn’t credited with a hit on Saturday, but he did absorb one near the goal line in his end on a dump in that nearly knocked the offensive player over – very reminiscent of his reverse hit on Blake Wheeler.

Shutting Down Suzuki

When it comes to the Canadiens’ stars, the Maple Leafs need to find a way to shut them down offensively if they want to have a chance at winning this series. That includes guys like Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli, Brendan Gallagher and Nick Suzuki.

On Saturday, those four specifically combined for just one assist – a Toffoli apple on the opening goal. But it was the Maple Leafs’ ability to really get Suzuki of his game that might’ve been the most intriguing.

Stu Cowan, from the Montreal Gazette, tweeted out following the game that Suzuki finished the game with 18:13 of ice-time. He had no shots in the game and finished with a 23 percent success rate in the face-off circle.

Nick Suzuki Montreal Canadiens
Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

We saw earlier in the year what the Maple Leafs were able to do when they held Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl pointless. To be able to shut down the Canadiens’ stars will be the biggest focal point for the Maple Leafs. No points means they’re relying on their secondary for scoring. No shots means they are going to be forcing questionable plays to try and get opportunities.

It may be easier said than done, but the Maple Leafs could be onto something with how they held Suzuki to being irrelevant in Game 2.

Also Worth Noting…

Engvall played 11 minutes in his return to the lineup. He had four shots and three hits and finished the game off with a 10-minute misconduct for getting involved with Shea Weber at the face-off. Galchenyuk was a little more quiet in his nearly 12 minutes of ice-time, but he made himself relevant creating opportunities along the board in the Montreal end.

The Maple Leafs gave up just one power play opportunity in this game. While there were some things that could’ve been called, that the kind of game the Maple Leafs need to play – a disciplined game – if they want to push the Canadiens to elimination.

As this game went on things got a lot more heated and a lot more physical. The rivalry is reaching heights we haven’t seen in a while and it will surely be carried over to Monday’s Game 3 in Montreal.

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