As the revamped Toronto Maple Leafs try to forge an identity and improve
on a season in which they very nearly made it into the second round of
playoffs, they are very quickly becoming road warriors.
As the revamped Toronto Maple Leafs try to forge an identity and improve on a season in which they very nearly made it into the second round of playoffs, they are very quickly becoming road warriors.
With a 4-0 victory in Nashville on Thursday night, the Maple Leafs improved their spotless record on the road to 3-0-0, and in some pretty tough barns, too.
Toronto opened the season with a win in Montreal and then defeated the Flyers in Philadelphia the next day. Of course, getting great goaltending, which the Maple Leafs have away from home, certainly helps. But the process of learning to be a good team is important to any club with championship aspirations.
"To have long-term success you have to be able to go out on the road and play your game," said Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle at Friday's practice. "You need to have the confidence to go into any building and play your game to give yourself the best chance to win. That's what we're trying to do, get to a point where we can go into any building and feel comfortable."
Captain Dion Phaneuf has played in the NHL for eight years and understands the importance of having success away from your home building. After going 19-19-3 on the road three years ago and missing the playoffs for the sixth season in a row, and then dipping to 17-21-3 the following year and missing the playoffs yet again, the Maple Leafs were 13-8-3 away from home last season and made it to the dance.
"The biggest thing about the way the schedule is if you want to be a good team and a playoff team is you have to win on the road," Phaneuf said. "You can't be a team that just wins at home. You've got to be able to win in road buildings and we've been able to do that so far. The biggest thing for teams to have success on the road is to play the style you always play and have patience. You're in the other team's building, there's a lot of energy for them and they use that energy to their advantage. You want to be patient and play a simple game."
Singing Bernier's praises
Carlyle continues to be grumpy when pressed about who his team's No. 1 goalie is, and it's a wonder why he continues to be questioned on the matter. Nevertheless, he had high praise for Jonathan Bernier, the team's presumptive top netminder, who recorded his seventh career shutout in Nashville to improve to 3-1-0 on the season.
"He's very calm in the net and composed and we knew that coming in, that he's a positional goaltender," Carlyle said. "All of the scouting and the selection where he was taken in the draft [11th overall in 2006] is coming to the front now. He's a talented young goalie and he's getting an opportunity here and right now he's on a little bit of a roll."
Phil vs. Dion
The Maple Leafs ran a competitive drill where the nets were pushed to the outside of the circle at centre ice and two players went against one another in an attempt to score on the shortened rink.
"It's funny to watch players compete," Carlyle said. "I made the comment to Phil Kessel, because he competes against Dion Phaneuf, that we're going to put a bunch of Dion Phaneuf masks on everybody on our team so he can go out and compete like that against everybody."
Centre David Bolland elected to take a maintenance day and was absent from practice Friday.
"During the course of the season we tend to give players an opportunity, be it massage therapy, be it chiropractor, be it all of those things, to make sure we take a long look at what ails players and how many minutes they are playing," Carlyle said.
"If they have ailments that have been lingering a while we make sure there are maintenance days in place. It's left to the player's discretion in conjunction with the medical staff. We have found it saves the organization money in the long run and when you have a medical staff that keeps players in the lineup it saves dollars and cents."
Clarkson still learning
Right-winger David Clarkson is halfway through his 10-game suspension for leaving the bench to engage in a fight during the pre-season. The 29-year-old, who signed a seven-year contract for $36.75 million US this past summer, spent some time prior to Friday's practice working with Maple Leafs skating coach Barb Underhill.
Even though he is in his seventh NHL season, Clarkson said he's no old dog and can still learn new tricks.
"If you believe you are as good as you can get, your career is going to go downhill," he said. "You've always got to try to get better, try to learn, and she's one of the best in the world. Getting to work with her before practice is exciting."
Carter Ashton has bounced between wearing a cage and also a full face shield as he protects the broken nose he suffered in a fight with Jarred Tinordi in the opening game of the season in Montreal. On Friday morning Ashton had the full face shield on.
Franson joins club
Defenceman Cody Franson, who was run face first into a stanchion Thursday night in Nashville by Mike Fisher of the Predators, was also wearing a full face shield Friday morning. Franson suffered a suspected broken nose and received a number of stitches on his beak. Even though it was his visor that cut him, he wouldn't dream of playing without one.
"If I wasn't wearing my visor, my nose could have been on the side of my face," he said. "It's crooked more than it was before, but it could have been worse. They tried to readjust it, but couldn't get it to move. It's off from what it was.
"It was brutal. [The doctor] put a bunch of freezing needles in there and tried to get it to go, but it wouldn't go."
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.