Maple Leafs start strongly…here’s how to keep it going

As every Toronto Maple Leafs’ fan knows, that was a big win last night against the Montréal Canadiens. Not just because it was two points in the standings. Because it established a very strong jumping-off point for the rest of the season. The Leafs did three very specific things last night v. Montreal that, if they keep doing them throughout the next 81 games, will mean a very successful season for Toronto.

Maple Leafs like Mikhail Grabovski (84) need to work on overachieving every single shift

1. Never, ever stop hustling – This year in Toronto, the Blue Jays marketed the slogan “Heart and Hustle.” Now, that credo should apply to pretty much any professional sports team…but it truly applies to the Toronto Maple Leafs. This year, the Leafs’ core group is a far younger squad than just a few years ago. No longer are Mats “Dinosaur” Sundin and Darcy “Grandpa” Tucker running the show in T.O. Now, it’s kids like Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf. By hustling and skating hard every single night (which was not the case last season), it’s teammates telling teammates that they are committed to the team’s success. If that happens, there will be no off nights for anyone. And that, more than anything, will turn a bad team into an average team fast. The energy the Kessel-Bozak-Kris Versteeg line showed v. Montreal was overwhelming. If the other nine forwards buy into that plan – look out!

Dion Phaneuf

Leafs' captain Dion Phaneuf, with head coach Ron Wilson, just has to play within himself...nothing more (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

2. Defence not trying to do too much – Mike Komisarek has admitted that, at the beginning of last sesaon, he came out way too hard in the first game. Got him injured, in fact. Frankly, we’re only talking about Komisarek, François Beauchemin, Tomas Kaberle and Phaneuf here – because they are the four D-men who are going to eat up the most blueline minutes for Toronto. Clear the front of the net. Bang some bodies. Actually, bang a lot of bodies. Don’t try to do things you are not designed to do. Last night, a Canadiens’ goal went in off Beauchemin’s skate as he barrelled into the crease to help out J-S Giguère. Just do your job, boys. Don’t try to do the goaltender’s job. Don’t try and score twenty goals each. Just play good, tough defence.

Leafs' netminder Jean-Sébastien Giguère doesn't have to be spectacular...just stop the pucks he should stop

3. Get solid goaltending – Not incredible goaltending. Not stand-on-your-head nightly stuff. Just solid National Hockey League netminding. That is something that has been in very short supply in Toronto since (hmmmm, Frank McCool is probably going a bit far back…but not by much) Felix Potvin, I suppose. The Vesa Toskala/Andrew Raycroft/Curtis Joseph experiment in T.O. is, as much as anything, the reason the Leafs have struggled for so long. All Toronto needs is for Jiggy and Jonas Gustavsson to stop the pucks they should stop. That’s all. Make the saves you’re supposed make.

If the Leafs continue to do those three things, over the next 81, they’ll make the playoffs. Easily.

Steve Lansky
While still in high school, Steve Lansky was asked by Edmonton Oilers' head coach Glen Sather to be the team's statistician as they entered the National Hockey League. In 1983, at the age of 22, Lansky became the youngest producer in the history of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada. Lansky helped launch Rogers Sportsnet's fledgling hockey coverage when the network made its début in 1998. He is a highly credible, authoritative source to the point where his depth of hockey knowledge is surpassed by very few. Visit his website at www.bigmouthsports.com

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