A three-game winning streak usually isn’t a breeding ground for complaints.
But after a perfect start to the season, at least in the standings, the Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t acting like a team that’s coasting along at 3-0. Starting with practice in preparation for Tuesday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche, coach Randy Carlyle’s group got into what he called “correction mode.”
“I would say that there are parts of our game that we need to improve on,” Carlyle said Monday. “I think the games in general have been sloppier than what we’d expect, and that’s probably the reason for concern. The number of turnovers and the lack of execution plays or fumbling of pucks and that kind of stuff.”
Mistakes are to be expected early in the NHL season, and Carlyle expects “scramblier” play in the first 20 games or so. The Leafs’ play at times has bordered on scrambly, which is why committing fewer turnovers is a point of emphasis.
“You want to make it as hard on the other team as possible to create offence, and usually when you’re not turning the puck over it’s a lot harder (for an opponent),” forward James van Riemsdyk said. “It makes it more frustrating to play against when you keep chipping it in, you keep going to get it, you keep finishing checks and you keep cycling the puck. If we stick with that sort of thing, then it definitely helps feed the way we want to play.”
Giving the puck away 33 times Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators is clearly not the way the Leafs want to play. But they still managed to erase a two-goal deficit and win in a shootout.
“We’re criticizing our team, we’re 3-0, but yet the teams we played against, they committed as many errors or more errors than we did,” Carlyle said.
And of course the Leafs aren’t apologizing for a strong start that might not perfectly match their level of play.
“I think as a group we know we haven’t played our best so far and we found a way to win three games,” goaltender Jonathan Bernier said. “That’s the bottom line, that’s what you’re working for is to win.”
Injuries to forwards Nikolai Kulemin and Frazer McLaren and defenceman Mark Fraser and right-winger David Clarkson’s 10-game suspension have put Toronto in a spot where depth players have to fill some roles. The team called up forwards Jamie Devane and Trevor Smith from the AHL’s Marlies on Monday morning, and Smith is expected to centre the fourth line Tuesday versus Colorado.
“That’s part of our mandate: The best players are going to get the recalls,” Carlyle said.
Further up the forward ranks, Carlyle is sticking with the line of Mason Raymond, Dave Bolland and Joffrey Lupul that dominated Saturday night. To no one’s surprise, van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel aren’t getting split up after this start.
“We were trying to find a balance through the three lines, and we’ve been forced to kind of load up two lines now with injuries,” Carlyle said. “Things change in a hurry, and when you get injuries and things don’t go the way you’d like them to go, then you’re forced to make changes.”
Don’t expect the Leafs to make any changes on the blue-line or in goal, as they’re likely to go with the same six defencemen who played against Ottawa in front of Bernier, who made 15 saves in relief of James Reimer.
Bernier is 2-0 with a 0.64 goals-against average and .979 save percentage so far. The 25-year-old wasn’t patting himself on the back, saying only that “right now it goes my way.”
Adversity in Toronto could test Bernier further, but the Leafs like what they’ve seen from him.
“The calmness and the maturity of him is something that’s very noticeable,” Carlyle said. “He’s at peace with himself as a goalie.”
As a team, the Leafs are at peace with their record and the steps they need to take to keep this run of success going.
“We know we can improve upon a lot of things, so there’s nothing for us to be complacent about,” van Riemsdyk said. “It’s a good thing that we’re finding ways to win games, but by no means have we made it easy on ourselves by usually trailing going into the third and things like that. We’re definitely going to have to improve upon some things.”