Game Day Primer: Game #11, Buffalo @ Toronto

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There has been a lot of talk about the Leafs lack of toughness today, spurred on by the injury of Timothy Liljegren:

Some might say that things move fast on the ice and that this is purely accidental by Brad Marchand, but he’s been a dirty player since the first day he stepped onto a sheet of ice. It’s my opinion that he knows what he’s doing out there and there should have been push back on what resulted in a lengthy injury for the Leafs young defender.

While I want to believe what the Leafs coach and players are saying, I simply don’t:

The simple fact of the matter is a leopard can’t change it’s spots, just as the Leafs core group can’t grow a backbone all of a sudden. This is especially true when you consider the organization’s stance on these things, that has been “our powerplay is our toughness” and watching Auston Matthews get rag dolled while laughing about it in the playoffs. Teams that stick together and fight back are the ones that win come spring time and this team has no idea how to stick together and push back.

All of this, coming just 10 games after they were pushed out of the playoffs by a Florida Panthers team that ran them over physically, is proof that they have no intention of changing. While some may point to the addition of Reaves as change, as it adds some toughness to the team, they should be reminded that the Leafs have had a token roughian for years now. From Matt Martin, to Wayne Simmonds, to Luke Schenn, Reaves is just the newest iteration of the fake toughness that the Leafs try to project out to the league. A 4th line plug that can fight and has edgy sound bites……….

……… isn’t exactly what the team needs, even if I do appreciate anybody that calls out Corey Perry publicly.

What I’m saying is exactly what all of us at this puckin site have been saying for years now, that the team needs a sprinkling of this attitude throughout the lineup and any player that is brought in for toughness also needs to be able to play hockey at a fairly high level. Luke Schenn, for example, is a fine defender to have come playoff time, as he is able to help on the penalty kill, can play 15-17 safe minutes a night and will drop the gloves when necessary. Ryan Reaves on the other hand does none of that, or much of anything else. Likewise, Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi, the other players that were advertised as being capable of upping the toughness factor after being signed this past summer, aren’t as physical as most would have you believe. While many knew this ahead of the opening of the season, it’s become clear to everybody by now.

None are more aware of this than the Leafs’ competition. It’s for this reason that I fully expect the Buffalo Sabres to play a chippy, dirty game tonight. Facing a Leafs team that is vowing to fight back, it would make sense to try to goad them into taking stupid, retaliatory penalties. Afterall, whats the worst that can happen if they make a few dirty plays against the Leafs? You have to kill a couple of penalties and listen to Ryan Reaves mouth off from the bench? Something tells me the Sabres aren’t exactly worried about that.