In a one-side affair, Jason Spezza recorded the eighth hat trick of his NHL career — and first in nearly five years — as the Toronto Maple Leafs took two points from the Vancouver Canucks in 7-3 Thursday night win. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares also scored and the Leafs sent a message in the first of a three-game series set to take place over five days.
Frederik Andersen didn’t play terribly well for the Leafs in goal, but he didn’t have to as the forwards gave the goaltender all the run support he could have needed and the Canucks simply couldn’t muster up enough shots on net to make this much of a contest. Andersen finished the night with 16 saves.
William Nylander added three assists, while Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin and Travis Boyd each got two helpers.
Spezza, 37, is playing in a depth role for the Maple Leafs this season, but head coach Sheldon Keefe is a fan. While it might not have anything to do with the center’s performance on Thursday, Keefe has chosen to sit Spezza in the past and in an attempt to rotate his forwards and keep him fresh. He values his leadership and experience and he wants him at his best as often as possible. Clearly, it worked.
The center played just over 12 minutes of hockey on Thursday night, while forwards like Matthews played 17:46 and Marner 19:20. That makes Spezza’s work during the game that much more impressive. Marner said of the veteran’s performance: “Vintage Spezz right there. Some of those shots and goals and moves he’s making – vintage. I think anyone is happy for that guy whenever he does well.”
The third goal of the night for Spezza was an absolute beauty.
Spezza Doing This as a Maple Leaf Means Something
Earlier this season, Spezza was waived due to salary cap reasons. There was some talk another team might consider picking him up and Spezza’s agent said the veteran would simply retire if that happened. He cleared waivers and made it back to Toronto, never skipping a beat along the way. That he was able to get this hat trick as part of the only team he still wants to play for is a big deal.
You can tell these guys mean a lot to each other. Spezza said: “Even more than the hat trick, it makes me proud just to see how happy the guys were for me. Those are moments that I think you’d never forget.” Matthews said: “He means a lot to this team, I think more than anybody knows. That was fun to watch. That was vintage Jason Spezza. He put on a show, and he deserves it.”
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