The Toronto Maple Leafs are back from the NHL’s all-star break and they’re looking to inch their way back into a playoff position after an inconsistent few weeks leading up to the break. On Monday, they did just that securing two points in Nashville against the Predators.
With that, here’s a look at a few noteworthy takes from the team’s 5-2 victory.
Have A Game Sandin
Upon returning from the break, Rasmus Sandin was still in the lineup for the Maple Leafs and rightfully so. The first-year defenceman played just under 16 minutes against Nashville on Monday and finished with a goal, an assist and a plus-two rating.
The goal was his first career NHL goal and, while it was questioned for a quick moment by Nashville, it stood as the game-winning goal for the Maple Leafs.
As for the celebration, Sandin said it didn’t exactly as he had planned it.
“I’ve had a lot of dreams about how I would have celebrated,” said the young defenceman, according to Mike Zeisberger. “I don’t think I did any of them except for the screaming. That was a great feeling.”
Matthews Scores 35
Auston Matthews also joined in on the milestone party on Monday, scoring his 35th goal of the season and his 19th in his last 20 games. It was the third time in his first four seasons in which he hit the 35-goal plateau and put the star forward at 58 points for the season.
On top of that, he became the first Maple Leafs player to score 35-plus goals through his first 50 games of a season since Dave Andreychuk (39 in 50 games) and Wendel Clark (37 in 50 games) both did it in 1993-94.
On the season, Matthews is averaging 0.7 goals per game and is on pace for a 57-goal season if he continues to score at this pace.
Nylander’s New Career High
William Nylander is having a breakout season of his own and he continued that with the opening goal on Monday night. The tally was his 23rd of the season and set a new career-high for the 23-year-old forward.
On top of that, he’s added 22 assists this season and sits at 45 points through 50 games to start the year. With his previous career-high in points being 61, he is on pace to break that this season as well.
Through the first 50 games, he’s averaging 0.46 goals per game and 0.9 points per game. If he continues to score at this rate, he’ll finish the year with 37 goals and 73 points which would be new career marks for the young star.
The Return of Muzzin
While he wasn’t a part of the offence on Monday, Jake Muzzin did make his return to the Maple Leafs lineup from a broken foot suffered a few weeks prior to the break. He played a team-high 22:38 for the Maple Leafs, including 38 seconds on the power play and finished with four hits and a blocked shot.
He was on the ice for the Predators first goal and some could argue that he went down early and slightly misplayed the expected pass, but for having not played an NHL game for a month, his rust wasn’t overly evident in the contest.
That said, with Morgan Rielly still out for the foreseeable future, it was good for the Maple Leafs to get the 30-year-old Muzzin back in the lineup as they look to make a push heading into the backend of the season.
While one returned, another Maple Leaf left the game due to injury. Kasperi Kapanen played just 4:42 in Monday’s contest after he apparently injured his arm on a play in which he missed the check and slammed into the boards.
Coach Sheldon Keefe addressed the media following the game, saying that Kapanen did undergo x-rays, but that the x-rays came back negative. TSN’s Mark Masters also tweeted that Kapanen was spotted post-game with no sling or anything of that sort which could be good news for the Maple Leafs.
Also Worth Noting…
Pierre Engvall had a good game, including using his speed to gain two partial breaks on Pekka Rinne. While he didn’t score on either chance, the opportunities are piling up for the young forward who finished with four shots in just under 13 minutes of play.
Jason Spezza scored his seventh goal of the season for the Maple Leafs giving him 19 points through 38 games. After being in and out of the lineup under Mike Babcock, the 36-year-old has shown signs of productivity in limited ice-time under Keefe.
The Maple Leafs are back in action on Wednesday, when they head to Dallas to take on the Stars.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.