Lessons Learned From Toronto Maple Leafs Game 1

Toronto Maple Leafs - Auston Matthews (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Toronto Maple Leafs - Auston Matthews (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

Before anything else, our thoughts and best wishes go out to Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares. The Leafs had their full complement of healthy players for just 10 minutes and 29 seconds before a sickening mid ice collision left Tavares needing to be stretchered off.

Regardless of whether you think it was intentional by Corey Perry or not, it was a brutal way to start one of the most widely anticipated playoff series. The quality of hockey, the sportsmanship and the sheer class lost without the Toronto Maple Leafs captain on the ice, is massive.

One last note before digging into the game itself. Sportsnet should be ashamed for their abhorrent coverage of the injury. It was horrific in real time; we did not need to see it numerous times from multiple different angles. Beyond the hockey player, this is a son, a husband, a father and a friend that is injured on the ice, the countless replays were unnecessary.

Yes, there is a need to explain what happened to the people watching, but that can be done with words by commentators, play-by-play analysts and anchors. Repeat angles right after the fact, and even some 10 minutes into the 2nd period is shocking directing and producing.

On to the game. Here are four lessons for the Toronto Maple Leafs to take away from what was a riveting Game 1.

Toronto Maple Leafs Have a Physical Battle on Their Hands

The Canadiens made a big deal in the opening pressers that they will play a physical game and that much was evident throughout the game. Kyle Dubas spent in the off-season for exactly this kind of playoff series; while the Leafs have players that can bump and grind they are still uncomfortable with the Habs style of play.

Even with the additions of players like Wayne Simmonds, Zach Bogosian and Nick Foligno, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still a team based on speed. The Habs don’t want to adjust to a purely speed game, and while the Leafs can grind more than they could last post-season, their pot of gold still rests in lightning speed and fast movement.

Josh Anderson and the Stretch Pass

Josh Anderson is the new Brad Marchand. He is a menace on the ice, with good hands, an eye for goal, speed and guile. He is exactly the kind of guy you want on your team, and the kind you hate to play against.

For the first goal of the game, and the entire first period, Anderson had all of his abilities on display. He is the spark of this Habs team and will require the utmost attention of every Toronto Maple Leafs player.

The Habs also showed their tendency towards the stretch pass. Anderson’s goal, and at least three or four other opportunities came from a stretch pass. If the Leafs defense continue to step off the blue line, that little pocket will open up and it is a dangerous area to continue to vacate.

Sandin is More Than Comfortable

It’s hard to know how Rasmus Sandin would fit into playoff hockey. In his short regular season exposure so far, the 21-year-old has shown in flashes that he could become a top-quality NHL regular.

If his 28 games last season left Toronto Maple Leafs fans unsure, his 9 games in 2020/21 reaffirmed their trust and his first playoff game cemented his role in this team. His quarterbacking of the powerplay in the first period is evidence enough. Toronto’s powerplay was been shameful coming into the playoffs but on Thursday it was noticeably better.

Despite the shorthanded goal, with Sandin at the back, it was the best it has been in months. That being said, the lack of clinical finishing on the man advantage cost the Leafs dearly.

Carey Price Bends but Doesn’t Break

Price missed a lot of action at the business end of the season, looked shaky in his tune up game with Laval but was excellent in Game 1. The Leafs didn’t dominate from the hash marks down like they normally do, but credit to Price, he made crucial saves when he needed to.

His health was questioned, but the Vancouver native is at the core of the Habs playoff hopes, and he is proving a tough nut to crack. Toronto needs to get inside and generate more traffic in front.

Looking ahead to Game 2, with the Habs up one in the series, it’s still in the balance. The Toronto Maple Leafs will struggle with the loss of Tavares, and they’ll will need Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander to step up in a big way.

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This Leafs team is balanced far better than anything in recent memory but even so, it will take every ounce of “veteranship” that they can squeeze out of Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza, Foligno, Simmonds and Bogosian to get past this gritty, grimey Canadiens team.

Saturday May 22nd at 7pm ET cannot come soon enough.