Even if Randy Carlyle were someone inclined to rest on his team's laurels from time to time, the memory of what happened the last time it played the Ottawa Senators and what is at stake this time is enough to keep him reminding his players of Wednesday night's task.
"We know what to expect, a tight-checking, a hard-working hockey club," the Toronto Maple Leafs head coach said of the Ottawa Senators a few hours before their game at the Air Canada Centre. "They found a way to remain competitive despite their injury woes."
Despite the loss of centre Jason Spezza, goaltender Craig Anderson, defenceman Erik Karlsson and a host of lesser players, the Senators remained even with the Leafs in the fight for third place in the Northeast Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference. In their last game, in Ottawa on Feb. 23, the Sens won with a goal in the last 30 seconds and Carlyle was unhappy that all three of the goals were the result of either a lost faceoff in the defensive zone or giving up a second scoring chance on a rebound or letting someone loose around the net.
"We asked some people to remain very conscious on the defensive side of things," Carlyle said. "Maybe we can outwork some teams. For a period of games we've been able to do that but there are other games where we wonder where we're at."
One of those games was that Senators game, only the second one the Leafs lost in their last six but Carlyle is one of those what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sort of coaches. The Leafs will hit the halfway mark of the NHL's 48-game schedule with Wednesday's Senators game as a much-improved group from a year ago, when their sudden fall from a playoff position got Ron Wilson fired as head coach, but Carlyle thinks his youthful group still has much room for improvement.
"I think there's lots of work ahead of us," Carlyle said. "I'm not one to look back in half a season and say we've done this or that.
"One thing we have that is consistent is our work ethic and our demands from our players are not going to waver. What we'd like to do is eliminate the valleys that come from playing a number of games in a short period of time. We want to give ourselves a chance night-in and night-out."
Leafs winger Matt Frattin decided his surgically-repaired knee is not quite ready and told the coaches he can't play against the Senators. This means he is also unlikely to play Thursday in Boston against the Bruins, and his first action since he was hurt Feb. 11 will probably be Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Senators are expected to get one player back for Wednesday night, winger Milan Michalek. He's missed 10 games with a knee injury. Also going into the lineup is sophomore forward Mark Stone, who will replace Jim O'Brien. The Sens' other lineup scratch is winger Kaspar Daugavins.
Ben Bishop will start in goal for Ottawa with James Reimer in the Toronto net.