The Toronto Maple Leafs rolled into the Saddledome on Thursday night looking to extend a seven-game winning streak. That is not what they got. Here are my thoughts on the Calgary Flames 5-2 beat down on the Leafs.
I hate the Toronto Maple Leafs.
To be clear, I do not hate the team itself. It is a team like any of the other 31 teams in the NHL, including the Calgary Flames. They are a group of players, coaches and managers trying to accomplish the goal of winning a Stanley Cup. In fact, the current version of the team is quite fun to watch. I certainly wouldn’t turn a game off out of spite.
What I hate is the “concept” of the Leafs. Here is a team whose popularity is based solely on population and proximity to media. They were statistically irrelevant for years. They went 9 seasons without being good enough to make the playoffs, yet the so-called “national” media outlets still featured them prominently. They are seemingly always scheduled in the earlier of all games on Hockey Night in Canada, even if playing in a western time zone. Thus pandering to almighty Toronto.
They pull in the attention of the league and media the same way a black hole pulls in gravity and light.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand why. More fans means more money. So give ’em what they want. But I don’t have to like it. As a Calgary Flames fan, I don’t need to be subjected to articles about Nazim Kadri’s cat when I go to Sportsnet’s web site. It’s as though these media outlets forget that there are 6 other teams in Canada.
So on Thursday night, it gave me joy to watch the Calgary Flames beat up the Leafs both on the ice and on the scoreboard. All the while disappointing the fan boys in their alumni jackets on TSN.
OK, my rant is over. Here’s what I saw in Thursday’s game.
A Playoff Atmosphere
As well as the Flames have been playing lately, I have had some concerns about how they’d fare in the post-season. Over the last several years, the Calgary Flames have had some pretty unceremonious playoff exits due in large part to the team’s inability to compete physically with their opposition.
I have vivid memories of Johnny Gaudreau on the bench during the 2019 playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche. He sat stone-faced after a particularly brutal shift where he’d been checked and slashed during a zone entry. Gaudreau and the rest of the team did not have an answer for the heightened physicality of the NHL playoffs.
Thursday’s game put some concerns at ease.
Toronto was arguably the better offensive team. They outshot Calgary in all three periods and owned puck possession, particularly in the first period. However, the Flames wore the them down with heavy play, outhitting the Leafs 18-7. Which led to opportunistic offence. There was perhaps no clearer example of that than Nikita Zadorov’s hit on Ondrej Kase in the dying minutes of the first period.
It was a clean and well executed hit that unfortunately saw Kase leave the game. Nobody wants to see a player get harmed. However, it was not, as Sheldon Keefe laughably described it post-game, “a violent hit” that people are “trying to get out of the game.”
Irrespective, the physical game that the Flames put on display was indicative of what will be needed come playoff time.
Next up…the New York Islanders. And a less angry Site Expert.