Randy Carlyle appeared content at the way his Toronto Maple Leafs practised at Walter Brown Arena on the Boston University campus Friday afternoon.
The head coach barked orders. At times he scolded players like Nazem Kadri for not grasping the game plan. He admonished his players to work hard in one-on-one battles along the boards, move the puck quicker out of their own end and play with a more up-tempo pace than they did in the 4-1 loss in the series opener to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.
The last item on Carlyle's practice checklist was to skate his group hard with 90-second sprints around the ice surface. Then, with Kadri and Co. thoroughly exhausted, Carlyle blew his whistle for the final time. Practice was over.
As his players caught their breath with a few stretches, Carlyle skated to one end of the rink. He took a puck from a pile in the crease and tried to flick the puck into the top of the net. He missed badly. From three feet out, the Maple Leafs coach flipped the puck high over the goal.
Man, when things go wrong, they go wrong.
Of course, Carlyle hopes his miss wasn't a sign of how Game 2 at the TD Garden will play out on Saturday. The Maple Leafs coach has used the past two days to point out the ills in his team's series opener. He employed video to exhibit to certain players, like Kadri, to point out just how bad they performed.
He's used team meetings to teach some more. He's had a couple of on-ice sessions to drive home his points. He's also threatened to make some alterations to his lineup for tomorrow's outing.
"We'll have some changes," Carlyle vowed, once again, on Friday.
Carlyle never tips his hand in practice sessions, morning or pre-game skates. Line combinations or defence pairings employed during these on-ice gatherings seldom resemble what he trots out in games.
Nevertheless, it appears that Carlyle plans to put in either Jake Gardiner or Ryan O'Byrne or both on defence. Mike Kostka is out with a broken right index finger, but Cody Franson was back on the ice and looked good after he suffered a bruised foot in the second period on Wednesday.
Up front, the forward lines went like this:
Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
James van Riemsdyk - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Ryan Hamilton - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov
Clarke MacArthur - Jay McClement - Colton Orr
Frazer McLaren - Joe Colborne - Matt Frattin
If Carlyle chooses to put Gardiner and Hamilton into the fray on Saturday, that will be two more young Maple Leafs to make their Stanley Cup playoff debuts. Ten Toronto players had their introduction to the NHL post-season on Wednesday. Some, like Bozak, admitted they were overwhelmed by how much quicker the pace was in the playoffs.
Van Riemsdyk was the Maple Leafs best player, and he, along with Lupul, just happen to be Toronto's most experienced playoff performers at 40 games apiece.
How swiftly the inexperienced adapt in Game 2 will be key to the Maple Leafs cause. Can they also upgrade their compete level, make safe and disciplined decisions, move the puck out of their own end better and limit, as Carlyle said, their "self-inflicted mistakes."
Also, can Gardiner make a difference? Carlyle has been hard on the 22-year-old defenceman because of his careless play in his own end and the neutral zone. The Maple Leafs coaching staff has worked hard with Gardiner to overcome his wayward ways.
The other concern has been the play of Kadri and Clarke MacArthur. After he was praised for most of the season, Kadri has slumped with only one goal in 13 games since his March 30 hat trick against the Ottawa Senators. MacArthur's confidence appears shattered these days with just one goal in 18 games.
MacArthur, Kadri and the rest of the Maple Leafs can start with a full 60-minute commitment to their blue-collar style of play, avoid long lapses and then see where the chips fall.
It wouldn't hurt, too, if they demonstrate a better scoring touch than their caring coach.
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