MAPLE LEAFS NOTES: Trying to 'build a brotherhood' on Bay Street

’That’s how you build bonds and make a team out of random players’

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Max Domi had never met Bobby McMann until a few weeks ago, but the Maple Leafs forward jumped to his defence when sore loser Radko Gudas cross-checked him after a goal on Saturday versus the Anaheim Ducks.

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Simon Benoit used to play for Anaheim, but that didn’t stop him leading Toronto’s defence with five hits in the physical affair and a team-high six again Monday against the St. Louis Blues.

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Last month, amid his other payback hits when sensing a teammate is being targeted, Jake McCabe fought Brandon Tanev of the Seattle Kraken after he had rattled Timothy Liljegren.

And there was mild-mannered Morgan Rielly going rogue against Ottawa showboat Ridly Greig, albeit suspended five games for it.

“We’re trying to build a brotherhood here,” Benoit said. “I wouldn’t say we don’t know each other, but I think we’re getting to know each other. While doing that, it doesn’t mean I can’t defend a teammate.

“Max did it well Saturday, he thought it was a cheap shot while Bobby was on the floor, so he went at it (with Gudas). That’s how you build bonds and make a team out of random players.”

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Another week of close quarters on this week’s road trip will help that process.

“We’ll get to know each other, their families and their stories,” Benoit said.

Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe also praised Domi for retaliating on Gudas after the two already had a first-period fight.

“I thought that was excellent and because we scored so much it was probably an understated part of the game. I love what Max did and Ryan Reaves’ presence, but the attitude of our team has changed a lot this year with those guys and (Tyler) Bertuzzi, Benoit and McCabe’s presence on the back.

“They’ve all stepped up and done a really good job. There have been a couple of instances this season where there was a big deal about (the Leafs being intimidated), but I think in general we’ve handled those situations really well and those guys have (contributed).”

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LIFE WITHOUT RIELLY

As of Monday afternoon, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman still had not made his ruling on an appeal lauched by Rielly to reduce his suspension.

But crisis averted as the Leafs have now won the first four games in which Rielly has sat, and he will play regardless on Thursday in Las Vegas. There’s still the chance Bettman takes the defenceman’s previously clean record into account and that Greig missed no time when Rielly cross-checked him. That could see Rielly play a day earlier on Wednesday against the Coyotes in Arizona.

“It’s not so much a rallying point, it’s knowing we’re missing such a key piece of our team,” Auston Matthews said Monday of his fellow alternate captain’s absence. “We have to step up collectively and do our job.”

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MAKING THEIR POINTS

Keefe’s predecessor with the Maple Leafs, Mike Babcock, preferred the concept of breaking the 82-game schedule into components, usually five-game windows, where the goal was to get six or more of a possible 10 points. Not Keefe, as the Leafs began a busy stretch of five games in eight days.

“I’ve never believed in that approach. When you do that, in my mind, you’re already sort of accepting that you’re going to lose points.

“I believe you should win every single game. Every point lost is a disappointment.”

WESTWARD WINS

After dusting the Ducks and beating the Blues, Toronto’s record is 19-5-2 against Western Conference teams this season. Reaves, who spent extensive time in the West, was not willing to jinx that by getting too analytical.

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“I’ve been on teams that dominated the other conference and ones that couldn’t get a win on that side. I don’t know how to explain it.

“Maybe it’s the air out West. Maybe it’s more sun there. Getting points out West is big, not as important as beating teams in your division, which is how you get separation.

“But in this situation, this time of year, all points are important. Teams are fighting for spots to get in or get a higher (seed) and players are fighting for jobs. You can’t take any team lightly.”

After this trip and home games against Vegas and Arizona, 22 of Toronto’s remaining 23 games are against the East, the exception a March 23 visit by Connor McDavid and the Oilers.

LET’S GO PROSPECTING

The Marlies, having moved Maxime Lajoie and Marshall Rifai up to the Leafs, signed a couple of defencemen to PTOs this week, Matt Anderson and Nate Knoepke, and let former Senators second rounder Jonny Tychonick into his first AHL game Monday.

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Meanwhile, 6-foot-5 right winger Justin Brazeau, who was once in the Leafs orbit via the Marlies and Brampton Battalion, scored his first NHL goal for the Bruins on Monday versus Dallas.

LOOSE LEAFS

The Marlies lost 2-1 to Hershey in overtime at Scotiabank Arena on Monday afternoon. Dennis Hildeby had 24 saves, Dylan Gambrell scored the goal … The Leafs spurt of 12-for-20 on the power play improves them to second in the league as of Monday. At 28.4% success, they trail only Tampa Bay … Keefe now has 196 coaching victories, on Saturday moving ahead of Bob Gainey and now tying Fred Creighton (Atlanta Flames/Boston Bruins) for 88th place in NHL career wins, in 100 less games than Creighton.

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