With a 7-3-0 record in their first 10 games this year, the Maple Leafs have, more often than not, played the right way and given head coach Mike Babcock much to be pleased with. But that doesn't mean they don't still have challenges every day - and on Friday, as the team practised in advance of their Saturday night game at Scotiabank Arena, two challenges stood out: firstly, the task of beating the talented Winnipeg Jets in the second game of a back-to-back series that saw Toronto win the first game 4-2 on Wednesday; and secondly, improving their home record (which currently sits at 2-3-0) to look more like their perfect road mark of 5-0-0 this year.
That said, both Babcock and his players were confident they could rise to both those challenges.
"We look like we're back skating again," Babcock said after practice, before turning his attention to the Jets, who'll play in Detroit Friday before coming to Toronto for Saturday's contest. "It's always hard to beat a real good team twice in a row. Teams would be no different than us - you try and respond and get yourself back at the top of your game, so we'll have our hands full. But we're excited to play them."
The Leafs' victory in Winnipeg over the Jets continued their perfect road mark, and a breakdown of why they won - getting the first goal, playing a robust and physical style - was also an indication of what has been missing in their home games at times. The Scotiabank Arena crowd and Leafs Nation in general is aching to roar for their beloved team, but the Leafs players understand their opponents are always intent on spoiling their home party.
TAVARES: LEAFS NEED TO BE 'A LITTLE SHARPER' ON HOME ICE
"It just seems like we just seem to have some good jump and we're kind of executing our game plan a little better so far on the road," said centre John Tavares, who scored his seventh goal of the season in Wednesday's win. "When teams do come into our building, there's a lot of excitement and preparation. I think there's been some adjustments from some of our opponents too. For whatever reason, we just have to be a little sharper, especially early on, establish our game and try to dictate everything on our terms and grab the momentum from the onset."
LEAFS ALLOWING FEWER GOALS IN WINS - A GOOD HARBINGER FOR REST OF YEAR
One other element of the game the Leafs are set on continuing to improve is their defence: whereas, early in the season, Toronto was winning games while allowing 3-to-6-goals to their opponents, their past three wins have seen the Buds crack down and allow only two goals or fewer to the other team. That's the kind of play the team will lean on more as the season progresses and the playoffs approach. And the Leafs are taking pride in their all-around improvement.
"That's what our team wants to be known for - that team that tracks back and helps our D-men out," said winger Mitch Marner. "We want to make it hard on their players…I think we got away from that a little bit in the last couple games, and I think (Wednesday) we came back and played the way we wanted to."