The NHL had to make a lot of adjustments in preparation of the league’s restart, and on Tuesday night the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens got to see some of the early results.
Getting dressed in the visiting locker room at Scotiabank Arena wasn’t a new experience for John Tavares, but he says it no longer feels like home given its transformation into the NHL’s Eastern Conference hub. Tavares admits that while the Leafs will have to make their own adjustments, he doesn’t want it to be a concern for the team.
“With the way the rink is set up I think obviously the way you see it on TV, and even in the hallways and throughout the facility, it doesn’t look like Scotiabank normally does,” Tavares explained on Tim and Sid on Wednesday. “So you know you really do get the feeling that it’s a neutral site.”
“…It’s going to be different and something you’ve never experienced. So you just try to not really worry or focus too much about it. You just kind of try to go about your preparation and focus on what you need to focus on and just put your energy there.”
The Leafs captain particularly noticed the absence of fans was during warmups and when the national anthem was played without a singer. He believes the crowd helps bring intensity and energy prior to the game, and that’s tough to replace.
“It’s your last moments to soak in whatever you need to before that intensity of the competition begins. So it’s certainly a little bit different,” Tavares said. “I would agree that definitely had a different feel to it. So those are just the things that all those details that go into your day and that are part of the experience of playing in the NHL.”
Another unique challenge the team will have to prepare for is going from an exhibition game to playing a five-game qualifying series to get into the playoffs, but it’s a change in pace the team has been planning for since league and NHLPA began discussions on return to play.
Tavares believes the Leafs’ work before training camp should put them in the best position possible to adapt to these types of challenges.
“We’ve had tremendous buy-in from the group all throughout this. Phase 2 was a real positive time for us just because I think we had really strong numbers, and the guys that weren’t here right away, communication was strong and they were working on things really well from where they were,” Tavares said. “…Training camp was extremely thought out (and) extremely detailed. The effort and commitment was fantastic.
“We’re just trying to do everything we can every day to just best prepare ourselves and you don’t know how that’s all going to translate in terms of going from one exhibition game into that type of intensity, that type of environment. And a lot of your surroundings are going to be very different. So, just trying to take it in stride and be ready for whatever’s thrown at you.”