In quite the turn of events, The Toronto Maple Leafs bounced back in a much needed way on Tuesday night, responding with a shutout of their own in a 3-0 domination of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
In Game 1, we saw Columbus impose their own agenda and style of play, forcing turnovers with an aggressive forecheck and clogging up the middle of the ice. In Game 2, however, it was the Leafs that turned the tide, using their speed and offensive ability in order to have their way against John Tortorella’s team.
The Leafs victory did come with a cost, however, as Jake Muzzin collided awkwardly with Oliver Bjorkstrand late in the third period, filling an empty Scotiabank Arena with an eerie silence for nearly 20 minutes. Muzzin was attempting to get back to his feet before being instructed by Maple Leafs medical staff to stay down as he was eventually stretchered off.
Toronto has since updated that Muzzin was transferred to a local hospital as a precaution and is alert which is more than a positive sign for Leaf fans and management. Although, with the new rules implemented because of the current pandemic, Muzzin’s return won’t be as simple as hopping back on the ice and there are still plenty of questions needing answers as this series heats up.
1: Who Will Be The Next Man Up?
With Muzzin leaving the bubble, the NHL has strict guidelines for clearing players to return. As it stands, it seems as though it’ll be at least four days before Muzzin can be cleared to play again which means he’ll miss Game 3 of this series (which goes Thursday) and possibly Game 4, even if everything goes according to plan.
That’s quite the blow for a team that struggles defensively.
Not only is Muzzin a go-to defensemen for Toronto, he also brings a much needed physical presence. Aside from Kyle Clifford, who doesn’t see much ice time to begin with, Muzzin is by far the most physical player on the ice for Toronto, something that will be absent moving forward.
So who’s going to take Muzzin’s spot? My guess is Rasmus Sandin. Morgan Rielly should find himself back on the top pairing as he led all Maple Leaf defensemen in time on ice in Game 2. Sandin should slot in nicely on the third pairing as he found himself in the lineup quite a bit when both Rielly and Muzzin missed time with injuries this season.
2: The Big Guns Answered The Bell
As previously mentioned, the Leafs top players seemingly disappeared in their Game 1 loss. That was certainly not the case in Game 2 as Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nylander and Zach Hyman all found themselves on the scoresheet.
This was a big bounce back from the Leafs offence, who managed to flip the switch in less than 48 hours, peppering Joonas Korpisalo with nearly 20 shots in the first period alone.
At first, it seemed as though the Leafs were snakebitten as Korpisalo was razor sharp once again, robbing almost every Leaf forward between the pipes. As the game carried on, however, the Leafs continued to sustain pressure and register grade A scoring chances, eventually solving Korpisalo. Auston Matthews tipped home a Zach Hyman pass midway through the second while John Tavares (who registered eight shots alone) buried one on a breakaway early in the third.
This is nothing but a positive sign for the Leafs as it indicates further that Game 1 was nothing but a fluke. If Toronto can carry their offensive momentum further, this series will be over rather quickly.
3: Fourth Line Delivers In Limited Action
Sticking with the subject of changes in the second game, Sheldon Keefe utilized his fourth line a lot more; a decision that paid massive dividends over the course of Game 2.
The fourth line trio of Kyle Clifford, Frederik Gauthier and Jason Spezza saw under three minutes of ice time in Game 1. However, with Pierre Engvall making his playoff debut centering the fourth line, the group saw the ice three times more than they did in Game 1.
And they did not disappoint.
Kyle Clifford annihilated Dean Kukan on his first shift, Jason Spezza played another big role on the second power play unit and Pierre Engvall killed off valuable seconds late in the game. A head coach would take that from his fourth line any day of the week.
What does this mean for how Toronto deploys its fourth line moving forward? All signs point to them becoming more involved as it not only gives the Matthews and Tavares combinations much needed breaks, but it also brings much needed physicality and depth to an otherwise speedy team.
Notes: Nick Robertson continued to impress, seeing more time on the second power play unit and showing off his wicked release. Frederik Andersen shined brightly once again, this time out-playing Korpisalo. He has now allowed only one goal in two games and will continue to be a cornerstone on this Maple Leafs team. Finally, Alex Kerfoot has seemingly come out of nowhere and has continued to be quite the bright spot on the Leafs third line.