As the Toronto Maple Leafs establish themselves as a genuine Stanley Cup contender this season, there has been a tendency to look ahead to the playoffs and consider the real chance to break the league's longest active Stanley Cup drought.
Non-Leafs fans, we can feel your eyes already rolling, but Jake Muzzin is as good an authority as any, having played a key role in the Los Angeles Kings' 2014 triumph. Muzzin pointed out key traits that are common among this year's Maple Leafs, and the championship Kings team he played on in the past.
"When it feels like a tight group and kind of like a family atmosphere in there, it's a lot more fun to be a part of. Everyone caring for each other, working for each other. Similar feelings in both rooms that I felt in LA and with this group here," Muzzin told reporters Saturday.
Although it's been admittedly difficult to verify with limited access as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the atmosphere around the team does feel looser, as veteran additions Joe Thornton and TJ Brodie have provided a much-needed stabilizing influence on the team.
Toronto is atop the North Division with a 19-7-2 record, holding a four-point lead over Edmonton with a game in hand, entering a pivotal contest against the third-place Winnipeg Jets, and have the anatomy of a contender, as Auston Matthews leads the way with a league-best 21 goals.
Muzzin obviously has confidence in his teammates, but he wouldn't compare this year's team to the Cup-winning outfit merely to pander to the Toronto audience, or install artificial confidence among the group. Toronto looks the part of a contender, and the cohesion among a group that has built a reputation in previous years for failing to reach its ceiling, could be the vital element needed in pursuit of the Cup this summer.
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