Over the course of an NHL season, teams develop personalities and styles of play.
The Oilers, in the 1980s, were all run-and-gun. Nobody cared how many shots or goals they gave up, as long as they got one more. And it earned them five Stanley Cups. The Philadelphia Flyers of the mid-1970s were extremely physical. You knew you were in for a tough game when you came into The Spectrum.
Those Flyers were the champions twice. Vastly different styles, same result. The win for the Leafs against Florida, on Tuesday at ACC, was a perfect example of their style this season (so far, anyway). Not a ton of offence, very strong in their own zone, walking away with a win in a low-scoring affair.
DID YOU ENJOY IT?
It wasn’t overly exciting, but it’s the only way that Toronto will make the playoffs this season. They must win low-scoring, one- or two-goal games. Offensively, it was great to see centre Tyler Bozak dig his way out of coach Ron Wilson’s doghouse (after being benched for part of last Saturday’s game).
Bozak scored the game’s first goal and skated hard all night with results. That’s not something we’ve seen from him every game this season. Bozak won 64% of his draws, too. Now, I’m not a big believer in face-off percentage being a determining factor in a centre’s usefulness, but Bozak, Tim Brent and Mikhail Grabovski went 23/34 (68%) in the dot against the Panthers.
That adds up to lots of puck possession time for the Leafs. And they took advantage of it. Jean-Sébastien Giguère’s play this season has been exactly as advertised. Anyone who thought Jiggy was over-the-hill was sadly mistaken. He’s been a rock, especially when the Leafs can limit the tough chances he faces. They did against Florida. That’s all they require from Giguère – stop the ones you should stop.
Last Saturday, in Philadelphia, the Leafs lost (in part) because J-S didn’t play that role. Dion Phaneuf also had a strong bounce-back game after a stinkeroo affair in Philly. The other impressive component of Toronto’s win over Florida was the way they picked up Colby Armstrong’s minutes when the forward left with a hand injury (word is he’ll miss 4-6 weeks, requiring surgery) after playing just 52 seconds of the game.
Tough guy Mike Brown moved up to the third line to replace Armstrong and Phil Kessel double-shifted on Mike Zigomanis’ right side – and both Brown and Kessel worked their tails off. Kessel even scored the Leafs’ insurance goal when he blew past Dennis Wideman and walked in all alone.
Do five wins after eight games constitute a good start for the Maple Leafs? You bet they do. Big time.
And you’d better get used to seeing what you saw last night – lots of skating, very little scoring.