Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle says his priority is to create an “environment for success” and in their morning practice ahead of Saturday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, his charges got a taste of what’s ahead.
Several players noted that the vigorous, up-tempo skate, which featured several drills and chalk-talks, was a departure from what the team has been doing on game days to this point in the season.
And it’s clear the decision to fire Ron Wilson and replace him with the former Anaheim Ducks boss has caught their attention.
“We take full responsibility for Ron Wilson’s job ... it’s tough to see him leave,” said winger Joffrey Lupul.
“When the coach is changed and the trade deadline is past, we know it’s on us, it’s up to the guys in this room. Knowing you can go and make an impact, it’s a clean slate, it’s a fresh start with the new coach, everyone’s trying to make a good first impression with their performance tonight,” said defenceman Mike Komisarek, who has been in and out of the lineup this season, but should play against his former team on Saturday. Captain Dion Phaneuf alluded to the up-beat nature of the practice and said “we’re ready to turn this thing around.”
Carlyle said there’s no time to tinker with systems and personnel, and that his main point was just to try and get his team focused for the game - the Leafs sit 12th and are five points out of the eighth and final playoff spot as they prepare for the last-place Canadiens.
“It’s not too much in depth, just feel good about ourselves and get the kinks out,” he said. “In our talk [Friday]night, I talked about having to be a sponge here because there’s some days that are going to come where they’re going to really have to try and absorb a lot of what we’re trying to sell as a coaching staff.”
Asked about his approach to team psychology, Carlyle said: “You point to the individuals, there is what we call a box inside. And that’s up to the individual to build that box, and if you look at the elite athletes that play not only hockey, they have that willingness to be better, and we come to practice every day to get better. When you practice to a higher level, you usually play to a higher level.”
The one opinion every Leafs fan likely wants to hear about the new coach is Lupul’s, who had an unhappy tenure under Carlyle when he was in Anaheim - and was shipped to Toronto.
“We spoke [Friday]night, when we got to the hotel ... whatever happened in the past is in the past,” he said.
At a morning news conference, Carlyle referred to his previous stint coaching Lupul, who is sixth in NHL scoring with 25 goals and 41 assists.
“Loops made a comment when we were in Anaheim previously that he felt that I didn’t use him correctly. And he was right. I made the mistake ... we made the mistake of not putting Joffrey Lupul at left wing in our top-six grouping,” he said. “But you have to remember he came back off some pretty dramatic back surgery, he had a number of infections, we at one point thought he would never play again. That’s a mistake that we made and I made and I take responsibility for that. I talked to Joffrey Lupul about it, that is water under the bridge. He’s a top-six forward for the Toronto Maple Leafs, he’s having a career year and good for him.”