The Toronto Maple Leafs are 5-2 through their first seven games of the season, and their identity has started to form with each passing period.
During the Maple Leafs’ game against the Calgary Flames on Sunday, there was a scrum in front of Toronto’s net as Jack Campbell fought to cover the puck. Amidst the chaos was your not-so-friendly, neighborhood tough guy – Matthew Tkachuk.
Tkachuk was kneeling right on Campbell’s back, and Bogosian was quick to shove him away. It’s a small step towards truculence, but a necessary one.
Campbell on Matthew Tkachuk: “I don’t even look at him as like a menace out there. He’s just a really good hockey player. Any time he’s out there I’m always aware. He’s really good in front of the net & setting up his teammates … we did a great job as a unit shutting him down” https://t.co/MxbhJU8gUi
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) January 25, 2021
While the identity of the team isn’t clear yet, one thing is certain – the abuse of the Leafs’ goaltenders and star players will no longer be tolerated.
In fact, the entire team is showing a snarl that has been sorely lacking in season’s past. Some examples of this include Simmonds’ fight against Ben Chiarot of Montreal and Mitch Marner’s chirping following a missed hit by Neal Pionk.
Hell, even Justin Holl seems to playing with a bit more bite. Some (me) would say that his improved play is the direct result of his newfound flow. As HOF NFL cornerback Deion Sanders once said, “If you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, you play good.”
Another potential piece of the team’s identity is their compete level. Before Toronto’s first game, HC Sheldon Keefe had a meeting with the players to discuss winning habits.
Essentially, the premise is that if a team develops winning habits earlier in the season, they’re more likely to succeed later – when the going gets tougher ahead of playoff time.
The Buds of season’s past were known for regularly taking shifts off, which is something that hasn’t been as much of a problem so far.
Their compete level has actually been fairly high, for the most part, and should only improve as they continue to hate every Canadian team more-and-more with each passing game.
— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisTHN) January 14, 2021
But is that all it takes to develop an identity and win? A little toughness mixed with some hard work? It’s not all, but it’s certainly a large part of it.
Another way to get stronger is, of course, by acquiring better players – something GM Kyle Dubas worked tirelessly to do over the summer.
You can try as hard as you want and fight back as much as you want, but it won’t amount to much in the absence of skill. Toronto is not used to the luxury of defensive depth, but this looks to finally be the start of a solid backend foundation.
The Maple Leafs’ new identity could end up being a lot of things. What we do know is that all of those things should be a lot better than their previous/somewhat current identity as a ‘young, skilled, undisciplined team with a weak defense and a penchant for choking.’
First point as a Leaf.
500th in the @NHL.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 24, 2021