Warriors of the road, stompers of the smurfs
On Hockey Day in Canada in February of 2012, the Leafs organization added special lustre to their matchup against the Montreal Canadiens with the decision to honour Mats Sundin with a pregame banner raising ceremony at the ACC. The Leafs were 28-21-6 at the time, in the playoff hunt, and had even more reason than usual to put on a good showing. They proceeded to get stomped by a score of 5-0, slipping silently into the night and initiating a disastrous slump that would eventually extend the team’s playoff drought and end their head coach’s tenure behind the bench.
That embarrassment will never be forgiven, but the Leafs came pretty close with their performance a year later on Hockey Day in Canada 2013. This was simply the best Leaf win in recent memory, their biggest triumph over the Canadiens in 12 years against a Habs team that was feeling pretty good about itself lately. Grabbing the lead before the first shift was over, the Leafs roared to a 6-0 win, complete with a Reimer shutout (on the same ice where he had his 2011-12 season essentially ruined), a Kessel goal, Komarov’s first as an NHLer, Phaneuf‘s first of the season, JvR‘s team-leading seventh, and believe it or not two goals with the man advantage. What’s more, the Leafs left the Bell Centre with what I’d score as a sweeping victory on the fight card.
Nope, this one didn’t play out as silently as the blowout a year ago. The game had more than its fair share of controversy, to be expected when the score was decided with over 20 minutes left on the clock.
As we all know, when hockey games get crazy and borderline dirty shit is happening all over the ice, your perspective entirely depends on who you’re cheering for. For what it’s worth, I thought the Leafs played smart, aggressive and hardnosed from puckdrop and didn’t engage in the shenanigans until the Habs tried to prove a point after failing to compete in the actual hockey game. Once Prust took a shot at Grabovski and the Habs started buzzing Reimer, a response was in order, and in a reply unlike the Leafs of seasons prior, the Canadiens got more than they bargained for.
All bets were off. Colton Orr tried to line up Pleckanec in the neutral zone and it drew quite the reaction on the ice and on Twitter. Rene Borque and Brian Gionta were first on the scene for the Habs to confront Orr and that ended about how you would expect it to. Meanwhile, Frazer McLaren was kindly, if mockingly, giving Josh Georges a chance to throw his punches without sending him to the ice sleepy as could have done at any moment if he wanted.
Teeing all that up was the Grabovski ejection after the scrum following the Prust incident, and the alleged bite by Mickey Grabs. Grabovski may well have bitten Max Pacioretty – as PPP points out, far be it from you, I or anyone as crazy as Grabo to act like it’s not possible you’d do such a thing in the heat of the moment, with your arms tied up and someone smothering your facial orifices with their hand. A player is less likely to pause and think about what’s sportsmanlike in a case where someone is trying to smother his face from behind as though administering chloroform.
As for Colton Orr scrumming with Gionta and then one punching Rene Borque to the ice; not that the Leafs were innocent of anything untoward, but if skilled players can’t be touched by nonskilled “tougher” ones, Brandon Prust started the whole thing by missing the memo.
Courtesy of @TOTruculent
Sunday Morning Victory Links..
The freshly updated Eastern Conference standings
Fifth place at the quartre pole thanks to the 6-1 road record.
Leafs’ rout of Habs turns into a melee
Harrison Mooney was less impressed with the Leafs’ actions.
These Montreal fans took the loss with grace
I checked out the Habs board at HF Boards after their loss and got the best laugh out of one fan calling out Glen Healy for his Leafs bias. Among the best parts about last night was the Leafs giving him literally no other option but to praise their performance.
Has that elusive team toughness arrived in Toronto – and are your sights set on the playoffs?
To the second question – for my own sanity I’m taking this a week at a time. To the first question – I think yes. Brian Burke plainly stated upon Wilson’s firing that Ron didn’t place the same value as Carlyle on toughness and it was only worsened by the team’s PK woes last season (scared to take penalties, took the edge off of them). Carlyle’s instilling a mentality that seems to be getting a little more of that “edge” out of everybody and Komarov, Holzer and Fraser seem to have helped. The Leafs are icing two pure enforcers as well, to mixed reviews. What’s most important is that the team is competing better down low, on the boards, and in front of the net. That falls under the definition of team toughness and JvR has been big in that regard among the top 6 group.