After 8 straight losses to the Boston Bruins the Maple Leafs knew they would be in tough against the class of the Eastern Conference. The term “statement game” is tossed around endlessly by media, coaches and players alike, this however lived up to the hype.
Despite holding a lead at the end of the first period after yet another goal by Nazim Kadri (13), the leafs did not impress. Poor team defense and missed assignments lead to a nail biting period for leaf fans who were just waiting for disaster to strike. Unlike past leaf teams though they came out to start the second a much more confident and determined squad, and it showed. Throughout the game the leafs showed why they are a legitimate playoff contender, not just a pretender. So what has changed this year?
Top 3 Reasons why the Leafs can now beat the Bruins
1) Leadership– As fans we do not get to be in the dressing room, chat with players, or hear much more than the typical hockey player interviews. It is obvious however that something has changed. Last years leaf team would of lost confidence, came out flat and lost that game, something many leaf fans were all but expecting. Instead they rose to the occasion, dug deep and played their game. Is it Randy Carlyle? Is it a new player that was brought in? Has a strong leader finally emerged? One thing is for sure, the culture has changed and this team now commands respect.
2) Toughness– Toughness does not simply mean how many fighting majors a team can rack up (though the leafs do lead the league in that respect), it means mental toughness as well as being tough as a team. Body language and results show that the leafs skilled guys as well as their tough guys go onto the ice with no fear of any opponent. Teams know that if they take a run at a leaf player they are going to have to answer the bell. The resurgence of Colton Orr as well as the addition of Frazer Mclaren and the presence of Mark Fraser has made the buds a team not to be messed with. Its not about punching guys heads in, its about teams knowing there is consequence if they decide to take liberties.
3) Goaltending– There are still many leaf fans and “Analysts” that call for a Roberto Luongo or a Ryan Miller to be brought to town to solidify this position. Obviously either of these world glass goalies would help any team, but can we finally give James Reimer and Ben Scrivens the credit they are due? Both goaltenders have grown substantially from last season and have become a solid NHL caliber tandem. They are young, inexperienced and will make mistakes throughout the season, just like the rest of the team, but they will only get better. Watching the style change of Reimer after the departure of past goaltending coach Francois Allaire has been a pleasure to watch. The body language from both tenders has shown a great level of confidence and should give Leaf fans a sense of optimism they have not seen in this position since the days of Eddie Belfour. Is either of them a top ten goalie in this league, no. That being said the Leafs are not a cup contending team this season and it is unlikely they will be next year. With a few years to develop, goaltending can become a strong suit for the leafs as to me at least one will become a top ten goalie in the league by the time the leafs are ready to contend.
Please don’t start planning the parade, one game does not a contender make. Regardless, it is refreshing to not be waiting for the bubble to burst, but rather exciting to watch a young team develop.