September is giving Toronto fans their first real glimpse at general manager Brian Burke’s Maple Leafs.
It is a tougher, more physical look.
Hired as GM in late November, 2008, Burke famously said that his version of the Buds would play with equal parts “pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence.”
After four preseason games it is clear that the future has arrived.
Including Saturday night’s game, the Leafs have had 16 fights. And counting.
Saturday’s 5-4 win over the Philadelphia Flyers highlighted Toronto’s new mean streak. The physical match-up saw several scrums and out-right brawls on the ice.
However the Leafs, who acquired sniper Phil Kessel Friday night, are still getting used to their new mission statement.
“I still think we’re adjusting to [physical play],” said head coach Ron Wilson after the game. “We have to get some of our guys who haven’t been in a rough-house, mayhem type atmosphere to settle down and be comfortable.”
It only took two-and-a-half minutes for newly acquired Colton Orr to start fighting with Riley Cote. Both were assessed fighting majors, but the Flyer took an extra two minutes for roughing.
On the ensuing power play Leafs mainstay Matt Stajan broke out between two defenders and scored his first goal of the pre-season.
But scoring was not the issue for the Leafs of yesteryear. Tied with the Buffalo Sabres for 10th most goals scored in 2008, Toronto put the puck in the net 250 times.
Defence was the problem, as the Buds let in a league worst 293 goals in 2008-2009.
Erasing that disparity was Burke’s goal this off-season, acquiring defenders Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek. Back-up goaltender Curtis Joseph was cut and Swede Jonas Gustavsson was signed as his replacement.
Drafted seventh overall, rookie forward Nazem Kadri is more typical of Burke’s philosophy. Shortly after picking the native of London, Ont., the GM described his new player as “a mean little bastard.”
Burke also added noted brawlers like Orr and Garnet Exelby.
This doesn’t mean that the Leafs’ old guard are off the hook.
“Some of our guys are going to have to realize that they’re still responsible for protecting themselves and handling their duties,” Wilson said.
These truculent Leafs are designed to wear down the other team. They will tire them on the fore check, and dog them on the back check.
Teams visiting the Air Canada Centre will have to pay a physical toll to earn their shots on net.
It remains to be seen if this strategy will result in wins, but, at the very least, these rough and tumble Leafs are getting under their opponents skin.
Ten minutes after the Orr-Cote bout, three fights broke out simultaneously with a trio from each team reporting to the penalty box.
Ian Lapierre, Daniel Carcillo and Darroll Powe represented the Flyers in the bad bin, while Exelby and the normally placid Lee Stempniak and Jason Allison did time for Toronto.
After he was released from the penalty box, Lapierre went back at Exelby, earning both of them five minute majors.
Despite this more emotional style of hockey, the Leafs need to stay professional, the coach believes.
“You still have to make plays, you still have to finish you checks, you still have to take a hit and make a play,” Wilson said.
All told, the Philadelphia-Toronto tilt had 36 penalties for a total of 104 minutes.
Although they might like fighting, it’s the win and Toronto’s three straight preseason wins that gets Leafs fans excited.