Toronto Maple Leafs: Jake Muzzin leads spirited push-back effort

Jake Muzzin #8 of the Toronto Maple Leafs warms up prior to action against the Columbus Blue Jackets in an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Jake Muzzin #8 of the Toronto Maple Leafs warms up prior to action against the Columbus Blue Jackets in an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs needed someone to step up and lead the way following two embarrassing losses and Jake Muzzin answered the call.

There is denying the past couple of days have been tough for the Toronto Maple Leafs especially when you saw the fan reaction following their loss Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A lot was said by the players and head coach Sheldon Keefe about the way they played but Jake Muzzin‘s words stuck out the most. Speaking to reporters after getting embarrassed 5-2 Muzzin didn’t pull any punches with his message.

"“We’ve got to find the urgency, the passion, the love of the game, the love to compete for each other,” he told reporters."

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Well, it’s clear the message was received because the Leafs played by far one of their more complete games of the season against the same Pittsburgh team that saw Evgeni Malkin make his return to the lineup.

Muzzin decided to take his message and provide that example on the ice and it paid off as you can tell that the entire team was committed to playing with more urgency and desire. This is a group that has embraced moments when a veteran speaks their mind and tells them not what they want to hear but what they need to hear.

You might recall a game against the Ottawa Senators where Patrick Marleau stood up in the dressing room during the intermission and laid into the team. Many of the players including Mitch Marner said it was eyeopening to see Marleau do that and Muzzin’s message had a similar impact.

"“I saw Muzzin — he said it great. He’s very chill with us when he thinks we’re doing well, but when we need it, he’s there to tighten everyone up and speak out and speak his mind. That’s something you need every once a while,” Marner said to the media on Wednesday. “We know our work ethic hasn’t been there, and it’s been unacceptable.”"

This is still a young team that needs its top players to push the pace and show that they can play with a consistent work ethic. That is why they were taking a lot of criticism for playing “soft” and not looking like they cared.

On Thursday, that was not the case and you can say that this is the identity and structure the team needs to keep playing with if they want any success going forward. Thursday’s 4-0 shutout victory is the blueprint for what the team has to do every night and part of it comes from their preparation and belief.

At no point in the game did the Leafs take their foot off the gas especially when they took the lead in the second period. It tough to critique a game where you shut out the other team and control crucial aspects of the game.

The real question is whether the team will be able to provide this type of consistency down a crucial stretch where they are battling neck and neck with the Florida Panthers. There isn’t a lot of margin for error and games like this provide some hope but we have also seen the team just mail it in when one or two things go wrong.

Next up is the Carolina Hurricanes are also battling to remain in the wild card hunt in the Eastern Conference which is currently a three-team race in the Metropolitan Division. It’s the type of opponent the Leafs need to go up against and show that they are capable of playing with the discipline that saw a top offensive team stymied for most of the night.

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What were your thoughts on the game? Is this style of play something the team can continue with? Let us know in the comments below.