Leafs get boost from Rasmus Sandin, Auston Matthews in win over Devils

Leafs get boost from Rasmus Sandin, Auston Matthews in win over Devils
Rasmus Sandin gave the Leafs a much-needed boost on defence during a 7-4 win over the New Jersey Devils at the Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday.

The 19-year-old defenceman, making his return to the NHL after a six-game stint to start the season, fit right in on the third defensive pairing, and more importantly, in major minutes on the power play.

Sandin notched a pair of assists, on a John Tavares goal that opened the scoring and on a Zach Hyman power-play goal that gave Toronto a 3-0 lead with four seconds left in the first period.

Auston Matthews scored the final three goals for the Leafs as they snapped a three-game losing streak. Frederik Gauthier and William Nylander had the other goals.

Sandin took reps on Toronto’s second power-play unit, a spot normally reserved for Morgan Rielly. Sandin was recalled from the Marlies this week after Morgan Rielly suffered a fracture in his left foot. Rielly, the Leafs’ top defenceman, will be out at least eight weeks before being reassessed.

“I mean, obviously, it’s the best league in the world,” Sandin said about being back in the NHL. “You dream about it your whole life. Just getting that little sample (to start the season), now you know a little bit of how the league works and how the players are.”

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe wasted no time in handing Sandin ice time. With Rielly and Jake Muzzin out long term, Keefe needed Sandin to help pick up a blue-line corps that features four players with fewer than two years of NHL experience.

Keefe, who said elite teams should weather injury losses, gave Sandin 16 minutes and 14 seconds of ice time, with 1:53 coming on the power play. At one point early in the second period, Keefe had Sandin on the top unit during one of the Leafs’ five man-advantages.

“He’s got a good opportunity here now,” Keefe said prior to the game, when asked what his message to Sandin was.

“He’s had a little taste of the NHL. He’s had extra experience, the Marlies, the world juniors, and he’s coming here now. Obviously, I’ve got familiarity with him. He knows what I would expect of him in terms of his play with the puck. Our team is playing differently from the last time he was here … that’s going to suit his game well.”

Sandin earned top defenceman honours at the world junior tournament with Sweden over the holidays, and he has been paired with fellow Swede Timothy Liljegren as the top defensive pairing with the Marlies.

Sandin appeared to have a greater comfort level with the puck Tuesday, and clearly worked on eliminating the softness he had with it back in October.

This should be the start of a long stretch with the Leafs. He needs just three more games for the first year of his entry level contract to kick in.

Andersen entered the game with save percentages of .667, .893., and .842, in his previous three starts. He had also been pulled in two of those starts, and was coming off a loss to the Panthers in which he allowed four goals on 17 shots.
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