After a dominating win over the Ottawa Senators this past Saturday night one has to wonder if the Maple Leafs have turned a corner. The Leafs showed up played a very solid defensive game and took advantage of scoring opportunities when they received them. It’s not that the Leafs have not played any tight defensive games this season, but this was against the powerhouse Ottawa Senators who have dominated the Leafs since the lockout with a 15-2-2 record.
With scoring in the NHL once again on the decline it would seem as though tight checking and solid defense is coming back into style. The word trap is a word that the NHL would do anything to get rid of, but watching the game on Saturday it would seem that it can be done and be effective at the same time. Ottawa seemed smothered and unable to really get anything going of any significance all night long as the Leafs played a 1-2-2 style of play. The Leafs used this style to contain the fast rushing Senator forwards not allowing them to skate with the puck for any long period of time, thus eliminating a lot of the odd man rushes which have haunted the Leafs on many occasions this year.
Now before I get a lot of comments asking me if I lost my mind, I want to make it clear that I realize this is definitely not the same New Jersey Devils team that won Stanley Cups, dominating the offensive minded Maple Leafs along the way. I know that Vesa Toskala is no Martin Brodeur and Brian McCabe is no Scott Stevens, not even close, but the style of play that the Leafs used was eerily similar to that of past Devils teams. When watching those teams play there were times that I was bored to tears and almost made me want to turn the television to something else but the bottom line is, it worked.
The Leafs have tried the run and gun lets try and out score everyone every night style, and some nights it’s worked but on a lot of nights it didn’t with the end result being a third period collapse. With a stronger commitment to defense the offensive opportunities general come from opponents making mistakes or taking penalties. If those mistakes are taken advantage of when given, and if Vesa Toskala comes up big when needed this Leafs team might just have a chance at making the playoffs and maybe even making an impact when in there.
It’s been well documented that due to length of contracts and no trade clauses that trades are almost out of the question, so what you see is what you get. The Leafs are going to have to make due with what they have for the next little while which doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As those who watched the game on Saturday saw this team that doesn’t look all that bad on paper can compete with the powerhouses of the NHL if they play a disciplined game with a strong commitment to defense. Let’s just hope Saturday wasn’t a mirage.