PHILADELPHIA – Under siege and locked in a losing streak, the Toronto Maple Leafs are doing everything they can to eliminate outside distractions.
In fact, coach Randy Carlyle acknowledged prior to Friday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers that he had gone out of his way to focus on some of the more positive aspects of the team’s performance during a six-game losing stretch.
“I think there’s a lot of negatives that are floating out there, I don’t think that has to come from the coaching staff,” Carlyle said after the morning skate at Wells Fargo Center. “Our job is to try to provide a template for these players to feel comfortable that they can go out and have success. Some days it is a little bit more harsh, some days it’s a pat on the back, some days it’s a hug.
“I’m sure nobody in life feels like coming to work and being ground into the dirt every day.”
The Leafs have certainly taken a pretty good beating on talk radio and Twitter after dropping out of an Eastern Conference playoff spot earlier this week. They are currently tied with Columbus, Detroit and Washington at 80 points and there are only two wild card spots available to those teams. The other three all currently enjoy games in hand on Toronto.
Carlyle and his coaching staff have tried to do some extra instruction since a humbling 5-3 loss to the Blues on Tuesday. He is urging his players to stop playing timidly early in games.
“The reality of the situation is ... we’re not that far away, but there are some areas that need to be addressed,” said Carlyle. “That’s as simple as I can put it. Our compete level has to go up, we haven’t won enough 1-on-1 battles. We’ve given up too many odd man rushes and breakaways.
“We’ve got to play better on the defensive side of the game.”
It appeared that Jonathan Bernier would get the start against Philadelphia’s Steve Mason. With the Leafs hosting Detroit on Saturday, it was likely that Bernier would get the call on consecutive days for the first time all season – a tall task given that he’s not believed to be playing at 100 per cent after just returning from a groin strain.
However, Carlyle indicated that he was managing his team as though there was no tomorrow.
The Flyers also enter the game in a bit of a funk, having lost two straight games. They aren’t completely clear in the playoff race either with just 83 points and captain Claude Giroux called on his teammates to show “a little edge and a little attitude.”
In other words, play the “Flyer Way.”
Philadelphia defenceman Luke Schenn has a unique perspective on both organizations after spending the first four seasons of his NHL career in Toronto before getting dealt for James van Riemsdyk in July 2012. Earlier that year, he was part of the Leafs team that collapsed down the stretch and remembers how crazy things can get in Toronto when the home team is on a losing streak.
“(When you) lose a couple in a row, everything magnifies that much more,” said Schenn. “You lose three in a row and people tend to get on you a little bit. All the fans and the media think that everything’s falling apart.
“That’s just the way it is over there.”
Despite the most recent funk, there was still room for a laugh or two following Friday’s morning skate. Former heavyweight boxing champion Riddick Bowe tweeted on Thursday that he would knock Carlyle out with a punch between the eyes if the team lost against the Flyers – a threat that had clearly made its way to the coach.
Asked if he had ever met Bowe, Carlyle chuckled and replied: “No, but it sounds like I’m going to have to get my posse together from Azilda.”