Maple Leafs coach strives for puck-possession team | Hockey | CBC Sports

NHLMaple Leafs coach strives for puck-possession team

Posted: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 | 04:30 PM

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Rookie Maple Leaf forwards like Josh Leivo, right, and David Broll, are just getting their feet wet in the NHL, so they are not likely to control the puck down low in the offensive zone for long periods of time the way experienced players like Daivd Clarkson and Nikolia Kulemin can, writes CBCSports.ca's Mike Brophy. Rookie Maple Leaf forwards like Josh Leivo, right, and David Broll, are just getting their feet wet in the NHL, so they are not likely to control the puck down low in the offensive zone for long periods of time the way experienced players like Daivd Clarkson and Nikolia Kulemin can, writes CBCSports.ca's Mike Brophy.

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Head coach Randy Carlyle has visions of the Maple Leafs playing puck-possession hockey. But one thing working against Toronto being a true puck-possession team is its current lineup, reports CBCSports.ca hockey writer Mike Brophy.
Randy Carlyle has a vision of his team, the Toronto Maple Leafs: Playing puck-possession hockey.

So far the Maple Leafs have been anything but, and yet there they are sitting atop the NHL's Eastern Conference standings. One might think they fall into the if it ain't broke, don't fix it category.

Not Carlyle. He will continue to push his agenda because being around as long as he has, both as an NHL player and coach, Carlyle knows the hockey that is played in October is not the hockey that will be played in May and June.

So yes, it is better to win ugly than lose pretty this time of year, but that doesn't sweep the mistakes his team has been making under the carpet for good. They will eventually come back to bite the Maple Leafs.

"We have been fortunate enough to find ways and come back and get points, but it's a nervous time in the coach's office because of the number of shots differential and the quality of chances we're giving up," Carlyle said.

Asked if he has seen his team show any signs of becoming a puck-possession team, Carlyle bluntly declared, "Not at all. Right now when we review and review and review, there are some areas that we are really absent in and our job as a coaching staff is to try to continue to find ways to continue to improve our play without losing sight of the fact we have had some success.

"We know that is going to turn against us at some point if we continue to play at the level we're playing."

One thing working against the Maple Leafs being a true puck-possession team is their lineup. Carlyle can go on and on all he wants about the absence of veteran wingers David Clarkson and Nikolai Kulemin not being a deciding factor, but the reality is, the kids replacing them, rookies Josh Leivo and David Broll, are just getting their feet wet in the NHL.

INEXPERIENCE

They are not likely to control the puck down low in the offensive zone for long periods of time the way experienced players like Clarkson and Kulemin can. Some day they may, but not now.

Still, Carlyle said it can't all be about the coaches coaching. It has to be about the players buying in.

"When you're pleading for people's attention and looking to your group, sometimes it has to come from them," he said. "You look in the mirror and sometimes you don't like what you see."

Carlyle said his team is not executing at a high enough level with the puck. He cited puck recover, transitioning the puck from defence to the forwards. He also mentioned losing faceoffs as a huge negative.

"We can't just sit here and ignore those things," he said.

There will certainly be other NHL coaches that would say, "Cry me a river," to Carlyle, but the Maple Leafs coach will not stop striving for perfection, regardless of his team's record.

"There are some things that get in the way, but 6-1 is just a stat," Carlyle said. "We really know the body of work has to improve. We're happy to take 6-1, but there's a 'but'. There's always a 'but' for coaches.

"It is a results-orientated business and we have to continue to strive for a higher level of execution and a higher level of work ethic or success is not going to be something that happens on a night-to-night basis."

MYSTERY MAN

Left-winger James van Riemsdyk skated for 40 minutes prior to practice Wednesday morning and then participated in the practice, albeit with the spare and suspended players. The Maple Leafs are still not saying why he did not play Tuesday against Minnesota, but one gets the feeling whatever is keeping him out of the lineup is not related to hockey. It is being termed an upper body injury.

"There is improvement and we will see if he is available to us [Thursday] night," Carlyle said. "Hopefully with another 24 hours he'll be back."

REST IS IMPORTANT

In a compressed season because of the Olympic shut down, there is precious little teaching time for NHL coaches. Carlyle said it is also very important to make sure players get their share of rest.

"The quality of practice is tough when you play every second day," Carlyle said. "You always have to count on recovery being a part of it. We have always said you can't have your players recovered at 100 per cent-plus, then it's hard to ask them to go out and give 110 per cent and that is what you ask for. We focus on the rest and recovery time as much as we do the quality of practice time."

SMITHSON SIGNS

The Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League signed veteran NHL centre Jerred Smithson to a professional tryout Wednesday morning.

Smithson, 34, split last season between Edmonton and Florida and has played 588 NHL games with 39 goals and 96 points. He also has 354 penalty minutes.

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