Despite losing for the third time in four games, it is clear that Brian Burke‘s design is coming to fruition with the Toronto Maple Leafs. When Burke was hired to fix the club in November of 2008, he promised a tougher team to play against. Throughout his time as general manager in Toronto, his club never portrayed physical toughness or any other variation of what could be considered a thorn in the side of opponents. Burke’s Leafs weren’t very good. But they’re good now. And if not for a controversial makeup call on Nazem Kadri in the 3rd period of last night’s game against the Minnesota Wild, the Buds may have escaped Xcel Energy Center with 2 points and a bully’s sense of pride.
Physicality and intimidation in hockey are as old as the game itself. These days, talks about the relevancy of fisticuffs in the NHL are rampant, but as it stands, regardless of your viewpoint on the issue, fighting and hitting are still part of hockey. The Leafs intimidated the Wild last night, and there was nothing Minny could do to counter, aside from, stay calm and find a way to win the hockey game. The Wild proved that skill and will outshine toughness, but they also showed the league that it’s possible to visit St. Paul and push the Wild around. Head coach, Mike Yeo, talked with the Star Tribune about matching the Leafs toughness:
“Do we match up against that team’s toughness? No, we don’t. If we want to start trading off, we go after Kadri, next thing you know, what are they going to go after? They’re going to go after our guys too and again we don’t match up in that toughness department against them.”
There is a fine line between good, effective toughness and senseless, get-you-nowhere toughness. One member of the Leafs crossed that line in Minnesota last evening. Centre Nazem Kadri was taking runs and playing with aggression all throughout the game. In the 1st period, the Leafs number 43 orchestrated an un-abetted run at Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom. The Wild netminder left the game shortly after and did not return.
Kadri has a phone hearing with the league’s disciplinarian today at 1:00 EDT, for his flagrant hit on Backstrom.
— Michael Russo (@Russostrib) November 14, 2013
In the 3rd period, Kadri was ejected from the contest for a hit on Wild speedster Mikael Granlund. Was it a headshot? The angle provided in the replay makes it hard to decipher whether Kadri made initial contact with Granlund’s head. Granlund was not hurt on the play.
The Wild are taking heat in the media for not responding violently to Kadri’s 1st period hit on Backstrom, even though they found a way to win the hockey game:
Nazem Kadri runs Wilds goalie, elbows him in the head and Minnesota players do absolutely nothing about it. http://t.co/ISu5bUQQq7
— Jouni Nieminen (@OnsideWithJouni) November 14, 2013
In closing, a great line by Minnesota Wild play-by-play announcer, as quoted by Chris Jonhston of Sportsnet:
From the #MNWild broadcast on Nazem Kadri: "This guy is becoming a repeat offender in the same game."
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) November 14, 2013