There will be changes.
Perhaps even a few surprising ones.
That was the unequivocal message from both the players and coaches of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, a day after an embarrassing 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins to open their first-round series.
The game wasn’t particularly close, but rather than hang their heads, the Leafs insisted they can be a lot better come Game 2 on Saturday night.
“We expect more of ourselves,” Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. “We just didn’t generate enough and we gave up too much.”
Some of the alternations will be out of necessity. The Leafs were missing three bodies when they took the ice for Thursday’s late-afternoon practice at Boston University, leaving them with just the bare minimum of six defencemen and without their top forward in Phil Kessel.
The good news out of the day was that Kessel was fine – taking what coach Randy Carlyle called a “maintenance” day for undisclosed reasons – but defenceman Mike Kostka (broken finger) and Cody Franson (badly bruised foot) were both out after blocking shots in a 30-second span early in the second period.
Franson is the closest to a recovery, although he was still limping in his loafers quite badly around the rink – perhaps no surprise given he stepped in front of a blast from Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.
As a result, Carlyle hinted that Ryan O’Byrne and Jake Gardiner will likely draw back into the lineup, which would mark the first time in more than two weeks that both were dressed for a game.
Among the forwards, there’s a switch-up coming, too, with big bodies like Ryan Hamilton and Joe Colborne getting a long look in practice.
“There will be some changes up front” was all Carlyle would offer.
All the bumps and bruises are hardly a good sign after just one game, as depth hasn’t exactly been the Leafs’ strong suit this season.
If neither Kostka or Franson are available for any length of time, Carlyle won’t even have the option of sitting someone such as Mark Fraser, who had his worst outing of the season in Game 1 yet led the team in ice time with 24 minutes.
There aren’t really any great options to recall from the Toronto Marlies on the blueline, either, as the Leafs already raided their minor-league team out of training camp in claiming Fraser, Kostka and Gardiner.
That leaves Carlyle with the tall task of coaxing more out of a group that has been sagging badly the past few weeks against a team that they have beaten just twice in their past 14 games in Boston.
On Thursday, that meant a long video session breaking down what went wrong in Game 1, something that appeared to give players a renewed belief that they can turn things around.
“No one was happy coming to the rink today given our performance,” Fraser said. “But the coaching staff are behind us and the adjustments that need to be made are minor. Based on our opponent, we’re going to have to tweak a couple things, and that’s fine. It’s still an optimistic and confident feeling among the guys.”
“It’s a series, right?” Kessel said. “It’s one game, and we’ll bounce back.”
No one around the team was revealing what, precisely, would change in their game, but part of Carlyle’s focus in practice was working on his defence pairings’ passes and breaking out of the zone, something that has become an Achilles’ heel for the last 20-plus games.
“We didn’t execute very well and didn’t get anything really going for our hockey club,” Carlyle said in breaking down where Game 1 went wrong.
“You’ve always got to credit the opposition. They played a hard, trapping game and they forced us to make some mistakes and we didn’t handle the pressure they applied to us very well.
“Obviously there’s adjustments you have to make, and there are areas you’re going to try and improve on. And we’ve got quite a few of them.”