The Toronto Maple Leafs inexplicably are started to show some fight back against teams that try to muscle them out of games.
Their 5-3 win over the Washington Capitals was the latest example of this, with the team refusing to simply be pushed around by the likes of Tom Wilson and Lars Eller.
Don’t get me wrong; the Toronto Maple Leafs are still not a physical team nor can we expect them to beat up upon other teams, but they did show some degree of not simply turtling or trying to out-skill their opponent.
There were late hits and more than a few more physical moments in the Capitals game, but the Leafs weren’t backing down, giving out their fair share of cross-checks, extra pushes and shoves and not allowing Washington to get in their heads with rough play.
Toronto Maple Leafs Fight Back
It’s not just been the one game either. The Capitals game was just the latest where they didn’t back down. Ilya Lyubushkin has proved a timely addition because he’s actually willing to put his body out there and show physicality every shift unlike any Toronto Maple Leafs player not named Wayne Simmonds.
Him laying out T.J. Oshie in the third period was a long time coming and is likely the reason that Sheldon Keefe rolled out Wayne Simmonds for the final shift of the game. Just as a little deterrence from someone like Tom Wilson from seeking retribution.
The rest of the team has upped it’s efforts in this department; Auston Matthews has laid a few notable offensive zone hits and does well to use his body to come away with the puck in these situations.
Rasmus Sandin has been showing us his reverse hip check all year, but still the new signing is a much needed dose of physicality.
Against Minnesota, it wasn’t so much a physical battle as a defensive stalemate, but they showed their ability to battle through that too.
Maybe we are best to frame it as showing as little bit of resilience. This isn’t to say it’s going to be of any value necessarily in the playoffs, especially if Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are kept quiet, but there is a little different feel to the way the team is physically matching up of late.
Ever since struggling against Daryl Sittler’s very robust Calgary Flames side, it seems there has been a change in the Toronto Maple Leafs approach.
One would hope it might pay dividends in the playoffs but there’s still plenty more to fix. Realistically, every forward line needs to be willing to lay it’s body out there.
On the defense, there’s a propensity to lay the body if it’s needed a little more willingly, even from more offense-minded guys like Morgan Rielly, who can play with an edge if it’s required.
Likewise, the other options on the blue-line though of course Lyubushkin and a fit Jake Muzzin are always going to be the leaders from this standpoint.
Right now, the first line is willing to when they’re not being chased by the other team, due to their elite puck possession. In terms of playing hard among the second line guys; Kerfoot and Nylander remain questionable. Tavares seems more confident playing his body, though is a step behind the pace at times.
Of course, the third and fourth lines are less of a concern – Wayne Simmonds and even Jason Spezza have shown willingness to grit it out, while Ilya Mikheyev and David Kampf don’t often shade away from a hit if it’s there.
All in all, the lack of physicality most of the time is because of a tendency to rely on skill over physicality.
Recent games, skill has still been on show but there has been a ever so slight extra edge. Not much, and not nearly enough for the playoffs but it’s starting to show up a little bit.