Toronto Maple Leafs
Saturday night brought back hockey to the NHL center stage once again in Toronto. I could write about the atmosphere CBC Hockey Night in Canada created, how excited I was or the general mumbling of Don Cherry. All very well could be on my docket but the morning after a Toronto Maple Leafs win in Montreal on Saturday night and all I can think about is the shut down style of play that Dion Phanuef executed last night in the 2-1 win.
44 total shifts leaving him on the ice for 26 minutes in dominant defensive positioning. Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle is trying to build a system for his players to fall back on and allow for better a defensive approach. That defensive approach was solid on Saturday night when at times the Montreal Canadiens had the Leafs team pinned into their own zone forcing the play. During the Montreal Canadiens siege offensively there was absolute calmness on the back-end. Something that was missing a year ago.
Toronto Maple leafs won position in the defensive zone and battles for the puck for most of the game. Discipline was the name of the game as well for most of the game. During frustrating sieges from the Montreal Canadiens the Leafs sat back and defended without creating a self-made parade to the penalty box. This will be the key to continued success for the Toronto Maple Leafs, simply staying out of the penalty box!
While Dion Phaneuf played nearly half the hockey game he managed to block two shots as well. The team managed to get into the shooting lane and block 14 shots that goalie Ben Scrivens wouldn’t have to face. This is a sign of a team that is working on defensive positioning. Leafs fans can only hope that this will continue as the season continues.
Leo Komarov wasted no time showing everyone on the ice that he wasn’t afraid to throw hits at the NHL level by leaving 8 hits on the stat sheet and by my count a few were left on the table. This type of speed and aggression should pay off against smaller teams like the Montreal Canadiens and leading into the game against Buffalo Sabres Monday night. Strong forecheck and balance aggression in the middle ice surface should push Toronto passed teams of smaller stature and allow for some climbing in the Conference standings.
Finishing off with the role player of the night; defensive AHL journeyman Mike Kostka who at 27 years old made his NHL début last night and found himself paired with Dion Phaneuf or John-Michael Liles. Kostka tallied an assist on the Nazem Kadri goal to open up the scoring and found himself playing solid defensive zone hockey for just under 23 minutes last night.
Important pieces of hockey success are strong defensive positioning, forecheck and discipline; all strong points from the Toronto Maple Leafs last night against the Montreal Canadiens.
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