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Joe Thornton likes what he is experiencing as the Maple Leafs approach the half.
The second game of the three-game set against the Winnipeg Jets this week at Scotiabank Arena will mark the midway point of the 56-game regular season for the Leafs.
No matter the results in the next two games, the Leafs, 18-6-2 through 26 games, will stay atop the North Division.
“We compete hard every night,” Thornton said. “We have a chance to win every night, special teams have been great up to this point (not so much the penalty kill), a lot of positives.
“As a whole, the team is really gelling. We enjoy spending time with each other.”
The Leafs go into Tuesday’s game versus Winnipeg having lost two in a row in regulation for the first time in 2020-21. They haven’t lost three in a row in regulation since the days of former coach Mike Babcock, who was fired on Nov. 20, 2019. The night before, the Leafs lost in Las Vegas, marking the fifth consecutive game in which they lost in regulation.
Since, the longest streak without a win is three games (occurring twice), with each span including a shootout loss.
Meanwhile, Thornton wouldn’t say how he came up with the nickname ‘Willy Styles’ for teammate William Nylander. The moniker was given to Nylander while the two were quarantining together before training camp and Nylander has had the nickname printed on his sticks.
“That’s a little bit of a secret,” Thornton said. “I’m glad he is going with it.”
There was a Wayne Simmonds sighting on Monday and Jack Campbell could soon be backing up again.
Simmonds, out of the Leafs lineup since suffering a broken wrist against Vancouver on Feb. 6, took part in solo skating and puckhandling drills prior to practice. The original prognosis had Simmonds on the sideline for six weeks and the bone is now healed.
Simmonds was skating in Toronto while the Leafs were in Edmonton and Vancouver.
“His cast has come off, so he’s able to do a lot more,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “It’s just a matter of him rehabbing and getting his full function back, be comfortable handling and shooting pucks.
“We will see as the week progresses whether he joins us at practice. It will depend on how he’s responding.”
Campbell, working his way into game shape after aggravating a lower-body injury, practised again on Monday. In his only game since suffering the injury on Jan. 24 in Calgary against the Flames, Campbell posted a 30-save shutout in Edmonton on Feb. 27.
“He had a really good day,” Keefe said. “I’ll have to see how he is (on Tuesday). It’s going to continue to be a day-to-day thing.”
Travis Dermott has just two fights on his NHL resume.
For the Leafs defenceman, however, getting some tips from teammate Zach Bogosian was required. Dermott sought out his defence partner during a practice last week, dropped the gloves and asked for some advice.
“He was showing me how to protect myself,” Dermott said. “Nothing too crazy, no knockout moves. Mostly how to protect myself, so that if I do get in that situation I’m safe and don’t feel completely lost.
“Bogo is a big guy who is very comfortable in that situation. If it happens in a game, then I’m prepared to be willing to take part in what’s going on, and at least be able to protect myself in the right way.”
Dermott and Edmonton Oilers forward Josh Archibald fought in a game last week. Dermott’s only other fighting major in the NHL came on Dec. 7, 2019, against Troy Brouwer, then with the St. Louis Blues.
Paul Maurice’s tenure in Toronto as coach of the Leafs was short, lasting just two seasons from 2006-08, but it was enough for Maurice to gain a greater understanding of the job in the NHL.
And that was after Maurice, now in his eighth season coaching the Jets, had been the head coach in the Hartford/Carolina franchise for nine seasons.
“My two years in Toronto was an education and all the things around the game that impacted,” Maurice said on Monday. “The scrutiny, the pressure, the media involvement and how people react to that, how players react to that and how the coach has to be a gatekeeper in terms of what I introduce in the media.
“That old adage ‘Never introduce a negative, somebody’s going to do that for you,’ you learn some things about being around the game, which help you prepare for your next Canadian market.”
In neither season did the Leafs make the playoffs and Maurice was fired in May 2008.
“I’m friendlier and less guarded with the media now than I used to be,” Maurice said. “And part of that is the Toronto experience. You get overwhelmed by the number of questions that you get, the scrutiny, the opinion, and you get to a point where you realize that you do your best to answer the questions as best you can.
“I don’t take the media nearly as personally after I got out of Toronto. I learned that.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021