Nylander return allows Maple Leafs to search for best blueprint

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Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander. (Nathan Denette/CP)

BOSTON — Just days after being a veritable quote machine in his first public appearance since signing his new contract, William Nylander was back to talking like William Nylander today.

Not much to say. Stick to the talking points. Kid would be a good politician.

"I’m just glad everyone was okay," he said multiple times when asked about a minor fender bender he and Kasperi Kapanen were involved in on Friday en route to the airport. "I’m just trying to focus on the game tonight."

From Nylander’s very brief account, he was driving when a female driver with a passenger turned into his car. Apparently she recognized him, and after sorting out the usual details, everyone went on their way.

"I’m just glad everyone was okay," he said once again.

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So we move on, although that didn’t stop head coach Mike Babcock, who like many coaches seemed in a better mood after a loss than a win, from making his media audience chuckle with a story about how Tomas Holmstrom bolted into his office after arriving behind schedule before a game, saying he and Nicklas Lidstrom had been in a car accident.

"But don’t worry coach, when I knew we were going to get hit, I dove in front of Nick," was apparently Holmstrom’s line to his coach.

Babcock didn’t know if Kapanen dove in front of Nylander, the newly minted $45 million winger.

"Maybe the other way around right now," quipped Babcock, referring to Kapanen’s 11 goals this season.

Nylander, on the other hand, is looking for his first goal since missing the first 28 games in a contract dispute, and after sitting out most of the third period against Detroit on Thursday when Babcock decided to go with Connor Brown to aid a comeback from down 4-1.

"It’s going to take (Nylander) some time," said Babcock. "But he’s an important part of our team and we gotta get him going."

Otherwise, Nylander is okay, Kapanen is fine, and centre Auston Matthews, bruised after a big collision on Thursday night with Detroit defenceman Nicklas Kronwall sent Matthews tumbling head first into the boards.

"It was two guys bumping into each other. It probably wasn’t even a penalty," said Babcock. "But those things happen. When you’re just coming back from injury, you’re not in sync the same way and you end up getting blown up a few times. He’s fine."

Many coaches would say something dark about everything that goes around comes around, or inserting some muscle and talk about "responding" after a star player gets hit.

Not Babcock.

"The bottom line to me is the league is a really tight league. The really good players can create space. The rest of us feel like there’s no room," he said.

"In the old days you could skate around in warmup and you could growl at each other, and that made a difference because there was somebody out there who could actually whack you. It doesn’t work like that now. If someone hits you hard, you’re not expected to take a penalty. You’re just expected to keep playing. So its different."

Babcock knows there are critics waiting to pounce on the Leafs lack of traditional toughness as a vulnerability.

"When you’re coaching a team you look at your assets and try to create the best image you can of yourself with the group you have. I don’t mean myself, I mean of your team," he said. "Do you play fast? Do you play heavy? Do you play physical? What do you do? You look at your group and you better coach to the best of the skill set the group has."

Tonight’s Boston game is the 30th of the season for Toronto, which has 20 wins. They were good on the road in Minnesota last Saturday, had to come from behind in the third and win in overtime against Buffalo on Tuesday, then charged back from a 4-1 deficit against the Wings only to lose in overtime on Thursday on Dylan Larkin’s breakaway goal.

"Any time we’ve changed our roster we haven’t been as good for a little bit," said Babcock, referring to Nylander’s return. "We’re trying to find our best image of ourself for sixty minutes that we can turn into a blueprint and do it over and over again. I think we’ve got to get everyone on deck first and then I think we can find that.

"Obviously, we have a group that believes we’re pretty good. To be really good and to be a champion you’ve got to do it every day, you’ve got to do it with detail, you’ve got to do it hard, you’ve got to have people step up. So we’ve got a long way to go."

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

The Leafs are 0-6 on the power play in the past two games, including 0-4 against the Red Wings, after being lights out for the first quarter of the season.

"We weren’t any good (against Detroit). Let’s give them credit. We didn’t execute on it," said Babcock. "I don’t think the power play was any different than five-on-five. We just weren’t in synch, it didn’t happen and now we’ve got to get back at it."

The Bruins will be missing defenceman Zdeno Chara and centre Patrice Bergeron tonight, two of their better penalty killers. Boston was third on the penalty kill last season, but Bruce Cassidy’s team is a lowly 24th this season.

The Leafs were second in the league on the power play last year and are sixth this year, although their 26.7 per cent success rate is actually better than last year’s 25 per cent.

"We’ve got to be sharper than we were the other night," said defenceman Morgan Rielly.

Without Chara (knee) and Bergeron (ribs), the Bruins are 4-4-1 this season and have struggled to score goals. Neither veteran is expected back for weeks. Defenceman Charlie McAvoy returned in Thursday’s loss to Tampa after missing 20 games with a concussion.

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