So much to learn. So little time.
That is a large part of the challenge facing new Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle, who attempted to impart as much knowledge as possible during the team’s second marathon practice in two days on Monday.
The assignment Tuesday stands as an even more difficult one, with the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in town – a team the Leafs went 7-12-3 against under former coach Ron Wilson – for the first of two meetings in the next two weeks.
Carlyle has been preaching a few simple tweaks in his first three days behind the bench, with one of the main ones calling for simple, high clears out of the defensive zone.
He also appears to have identified a favourite in checking centre David Steckel, who was bumped up to the third line in Toronto’s 3-1 win last Saturday over the Montreal Canadiens and played more than 15 minutes for just the third time since November.
Steckel’s line, which will include wingers Nikolai Kulemin and Colby Armstrong against the Bruins, has already drawn some comparison to the Sammy Pahlsson-led trio Carlyle liked to lean on when he coached the Anaheim Ducks.
Pahlsson famously helped lead Anaheim to the 2007 Stanley Cup by checking opponents’ top lines into the ground, earning plenty of ice time despite never scoring more than 26 points in a season.
Steckel said the new coach has made it pretty clear what he wants from him and his linemates.
“He talked about us being a checking line, getting the puck in our own end and creating chances for other lines,” he said. “Going in there and having time of possession in their zone and wearing the D down.”
That may not be a headline-grabbing shift by Carlyle, but it’s the type of subtle change that will need to be effective if the Leafs are suddenly going to go on a run.
With just 67 points after 65 games – the identical spot they were in last year in early March – the Leafs need to win 10 or 11 of its final 17 games to make the postseason.
The Leafs’ schedule this month is rather ugly, too, with seven of nine games on the road after facing the Bruins and eight of their next 11 against teams in playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
One way Carlyle said he will attempt to keep his teams in those games is by working on conditioning and emphasizing speed and physical play.
The Leafs’ new coach isn’t known for relying much on his fourth line, however, so he will be asking for toughness from throughout the lineup rather than just the enforcer types.
So with a team not yet built for that style and taking on a very physical Bruins lineup, how much the new coach’s wisdom has sunk in should be evident from the drop of the puck at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday.
“We have to make the ACC a difficult place for the opposition to come into,” Carlyle said. “To have any kind of success. That’s our goal.”
He also admitted Monday that things have been a bit of a whirlwind the past few days, as on Wednesday he was playing a round of golf in California, unaware he’d be consumed with the minutia of the Leafs’ roster less than 48 hours later.
After a series of flights to Boston, Montreal and finally Toronto by early Sunday morning, Carlyle is still trying to get a handle on his team even as the games keep coming.
“I’m still getting to know people, and they’re still getting to know me,” he said, comparing the situation to having a training camp late in a season. “The comfort level is never going to be perfect, for any coach.”
Much less one facing a mountain to climb and so little time to figure out where to start.