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Maple Leafs’ Keefe Hints: Physicality’s Part of the Deal, Bring It On!

The Toronto Maple Leafs have a far different team this season than they’ve had before. In what ways are they more playoff ready?

The Toronto Maple Leafs are ‘far better equipped’ for the physicality of the 2020-21 postseason playoffs than they’ve been since I’ve been covering the team. In fact, during a Sportsnet interview earlier today, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe spent a good deal of time explaining the reasons why he believes this season’s team is far more ready to handle the physical nature of postseason play.

Related: Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs: Which Playoff Team Has the Most to Lose?

What Gives Keefe Confidence about His Team?

Specifically, in the video below, Keefe was shown answering the following question:

“What gives you confidence that your group can handle the physicality Montreal plans to bring to the series? Do you think you are better equipped for that kind of battle than you were going into the Columbus series last year?” [Note, although you won’t be able to hear the question being asked, the response is to the question above.]

As Keefe suggests, the team is far better equipped this season than last season to handle “whatever way the game will be played.”

Keefe also promised, “We also have the ability to initiate things ourselves.” That suggests his team just won’t sit back and have the game dictated to them. Rather, they might begin to initiate a physical game themselves.

Listening to both Canadian and US-based reporters, the general sense one gets is that most hockey pundits believe the Maple Leafs are soft and that, when they run into a more physical team that is based in the US, they will be pounded into the ice.

My sense watching the team is that those critiques might have been describing last season’s team. However, they are far from true this season. In fact, how long ago was it that Winnipeg Jets’ head coach hinted that the Maple Leafs were a dirty team. However, as is his ironic manner, Maurice didn’t exactly say that.

How Do the Montreal Canadiens Stack Up Physically?

It might be that during this interview Keefe was only thinking In terms of the Canadiens’ style of play. In fact, that’s what the question asked him to do. However, what Keefe says also works for other teams the Maple Leafs might face should they get past the Canadiens and move to the final Division series.

Keefe noted that the team is confident because “We have played against Montreal 10 times during the regular season. Statistically, they are right near the top of the league in terms of physicality. We have dealt with that. We are used to it.’

Then he added, “We know it (physical play) is going to go to a higher degree in the playoffs, as it will for our team as well. It is just part of the deal.”

Then Keefe hinted that his team would be ready and basically invited opponents to bring it on. He noted, “Our players who have been on our team for the last number of years have grown through it and are ready to take it on. The additions that we have made to our team throughout this season or in the offseason will also help us in that regard.”

That comment sort of includes the whole team, I’d guess.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Campbell or Andersen: Either Order, Increased Success

Who Are the Additions Who Can Help?

During the offseason, after the Maple Leafs were bumped from the bubble, the team’s braintrust met and decided the team needed players who were tougher to play against. Then the Maple Leafs systematically added those pieces. That list includes Wayne Simmonds, who is as strong and tough a player as one can find in the NHL. Simmonds both plays tough five-on-five hockey, but he also will scrum it up with opponents as well.

But Simmonds is not alone. Defenseman Zach Bogosian plays tough hockey. Experienced trade-deadline newcomer Nick Foligno plays with an edge. Finally, Jumbo Joe Thornton has been playing more physical hockey as well. In fact, Keefe noted during a recent interview that Thornton was the most physical of the Maple Leafs’ players.

Joe Thornton Maple Leafs
Joe Thornton, Maple Leafs

The deal with Thornton is that he’s never won a Stanley Cup; and, he has to believe this might be his last opportunity. He’s pumped his game up and is playing with an edge that both his coach has noticed. He’s big and fearless when it comes to challenging others.

That attitude hasn’t been missed by anyone – including his teammates. That’s the kind of leadership Keefe hinted at during his interview today. Montreal – he invited – bring it on. His team is ready.

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