The Toronto Maple Leafs Wayne Simmonds, just minutes after signing with his hometown team, famously said, “I can punch your head off.” The power forward pulled no punches when his squad got accused of playing dirty in the wake of Thursday’s 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets. “Every time we play them they’ve tried to come at us, run us out of the building to start games. So, we come back, and we’re physical, and now we’re a dirty team? I don’t, I don’t buy that. I just think we’re defending ourselves, playing the game physical. It’s playoff hockey.”
Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who got pulled in Thursday’s game after allowing three goals on six shots, had a front-row seat for the game. He expected the physical play, but that is not what he saw from the Maple Leafs. “Teams know they have to come in, have to try to answer the bell to the strong game we play. Sometimes they’re not capable of doing it, and they do cheap shots like that.”
Multiple Fines for the Maple Leafs
Joe Thornton was fined $3,017.24 by the NHL for interfering with the Jets forward Mathieu Perreault. Alex Galchenyuk hit Winnipeg’s Adam Lowry up high, causing Lowry to leave the game. Nick Foligno caught the Jets Josh Morrissey with a hit from behind. Just a week ago, Zach Hyman was fined $5,000 for high sticking Jets defenceman Neal Pionk. After hearing the list of infractions, Pierre Luc Dubois claimed there is more, “you mentioned a few plays, I remember a few others plays in my head. They play hard.”
One of those plays may have been when Simmonds grabbed Dubois out of the crease and walked him on his knees into the boards. Simmonds got penalized for it, and he’s not sorry. “I’m sick of guys jumping on our goalie and being allowed to, you know, spear our goalie after plays and stuff like that and the refs not calling it.”
Keefe Wants to See More Toughness
It’s the physicality that Sheldon Keefe has been wanting to see out of his lineup from the first day he took over. “I still feel like we need to be more physical,” said Keefe, who isn’t referring to scrums after the whistle, but more toughness during the play. “I’m talking about being physical on the puck. Being physical on defence, those are the things I’m looking for.”
Keefe said it’s improved this season, but there is still more room to grow. He wants more physical play out of every player on the ice. “Not just players like you know, Simmonds, Foligno, Bogosian, Muzzin, not just those guys – everybody on our team. Those things we’re looking to do a better job of. Being physical in the things that really matter in the game, which is protecting the puck, winning the puck, creating space for yourself, you defending your net, defending space creating space that’s the physicality that we really need.”
Maple Leafs Have a New Dimension
Dubois was on the Columbus Blue Jackets when they knocked Toronto out of the play-in series last season. He sees a difference in this Maple Leafs team. “I’ve always said in the playoffs I think the teams that win are the teams that don’t just have one identity. They can play multiple kinds of games. When it gets physical, they can play physical when it gets defensive or offensive; they can play those two also. The Maple Leafs have shown you know that they’re not just a one-dimensional team.”
It’s been a long time since that’s been said about the Maple Leafs, who have been criticized for years for being too soft to play against. The Jets are not one-dimensional either, which is why this is developing into a heated rivalry. That and the fact they play each other ten times this season. The way things are going, they will play each other at least four more times during what will be an exciting playoff series.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.