Maple Leafs Turnaround Sparked By John Tortorella

The Toronto Maple Leafs earned 25 points in November, the most in a calendar month in the franchise’s 105- year history. This success makes it easy to forget where this team was the month prior. The fire everyone theme was loud. Reporters were asking Sheldon Keefe if he was concerned about his job. The sky was falling in Toronto, and then John Tortorella showed up and did what John Tortorella does. He called the media out, defended Keefe, and showed some support for the faltering Maple Leafs. Since then, Toronto has recorded points in 14 of 15 games, and they are on a five-game winning streak.

John Tortorella Philadelphia Flyers
John Tortorella, Philadelphia Flyers Head Coach (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Of course, Tortorella isn’t the reason the team is performing so well. But a bit of confidence boost from a well-respected, Stanley Cup-winning and two-time Coach of the Year can help spark a team to get on a roll. It may be hard to remember, perhaps fans don’t want to, but the start of the season was not good. October saw the Maple Leafs go 4-4-2, including losses to the Anaheim Ducks, the Arizona Coyotes and the San Jose Sharks. Add to that many injuries, including Matt Murray and Jake Muzzin. The team looked out of sync, but it appeared to consist of players expecting to win without putting in the work. It was ugly.

Maple Leafs Were Bad

The Buds returned home from a horrific road trip on a four-game losing streak. Media could smell blood in the water and piled on with fire Keefe narrative. The rebuilding Philadelphia Flyers rolled into Toronto, and the microphones and cameras swarmed an always colourful Tortorella to feed the story. That’s when he let them have it, “You guys don’t know anything,” he said, cutting off a question. “You guys chuck darts at him (Keefe) because you want some results. I guess it is. It’s always the coach that gets the darts chucked at him. I know in watching him and coaching against him, I think he’s a terrific coach.”

Related: 3 Takeaways From the Maple Leafs’ Win Over the Flyers

Tortorella coached Keefe nearly twenty years ago in the Tampa Bay Lightning system. “See, I coach against Sheldon. I think coaches know other coaches. You guys don’t know what he’s done for that team. I’ve watched from afar. I’ve coached him. We’ve had conversations as a young coach in this league. I hope he jams it to you all, quite honestly.”

Keefe Did “Jam” Everyone

Keefe and the Maple Leafs did precisely that. They’ve jammed it to the media and everyone who hated the team. It actually started that night against Tortorella’s Flyers. Toronto won 5-2 in a spirited game that included Mark Giordano going after anyone in orange after an incident involving Auston Matthews.

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The Maple Leafs increased their goals in 5-on-5 situations from 1.4 in October to 2.4 in November. Even with a depleted blue line (Muzzin, T.J. Brodie, Morgan Rielly, and Jordie Benn are all out), Toronto was fifth in the league for goals against, allowing 2.21, while giving up 29.2 shots a game – that’s ninth in the NHL.

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Keefe, who is now a long way away from the hot seat, doubtful he was ever really there, commented on the historic month, “I don’t do a whole lot of looking back. Obviously, we are in a good place now and are feeling good as a team. We have a lot of confidence. We feel like we are where we should be. If we started better, we would be in an even better spot, but maybe if we didn’t start the way we did, maybe we don’t have as good of a November.”

Maybe if they had a better start, an outsider, the opposition nonetheless, wouldn’t have defended Keefe and the team and let the Toronto media have it. Again, the team deserved all the credit for an incredible month, but maybe they want to send Tortorella a Christmas card.