Virtually every game -- win or lose -- Toronto Maple Leafs
coach Randy Carlyle can be heard offering the same refrain: "We have got to be better!"
And you know what? He's 100 per cent right.
The Maple Leafs are full value for their impressive 13-7-1 record through all the injuries and suspensions they have had to deal with, but at the end of the day they have been saved time and time again by solid goaltending from James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier, as well as an explosive offence that can mask their mistakes when it gets hot.
They are not playing the type of hockey that is conducive to going deep into the playoffs, and Tuesday night was a perfect example of that.
If you simply looked at the final score -- 5-2 for Toronto
over the Islanders -- you'd think it was a walk in the park for the victorious home team. In reality, it was anything but. The Maple Leafs were outshot 37-24, and that has pretty much become a regular occurrence. More horrifying, though, was the fact they had 19 giveaways compared to just eight for the Islanders.
Take that 19 and add it to the 232 Toronto had entering the game and it should not be too surprising to find they now lead the NHL in giveaways with 251. That's 11.4 per game, an unacceptable number for a team with aspirations to go deep into the playoffs.
The Edmonton Oilers are second worst at 241, while the Winnipeg Jets are next with 212. By comparison, the St. Louis Blues have committed a league-low 71 turnovers.
Once again, Bernier was tough to beat and the team got offence from Phil Kessel with two goals and a couple of three-point performances from Trevor Smith and Joffrey Lupul.
"Turnovers are an element of the game that every coach has a problem with," Carlyle said. "Last night was a case where early in the game there were unforced turnovers [and] later in the game there were more forced turnovers. It is always something we chart as we try to minimize the number of turnovers we have.
"The good teams and the teams that win hockey games have less of them."
Getting on the forecheck
Carlyle said he felt his team was better on the forecheck against the Islanders, but again, thinks it could be better.
"Everybody in the league now is fore-checking much more aggressively," Carlyle said. "That's what the game has become. If we don't develop a strong forechecking game then our team growth is going to be minimized."Who are the real Leafs?
You have not seen the real Maple Leafs for a single game this season. Between injuries and suspensions, Toronto has not iced a full lineup yet.
"That's life in the NHL," Carlyle said. "You know injuries are going to play a part of it, I just didn't think the suspensions would be quite as involved. That's something we have tried to address. We're going to play a tough brand of hockey, but we have to play a more disciplined brand of hockey."Morgan knows Seth
With the Nashville Predators
in town (they practised at MasterCar Centre Wednesday), Toronto fans will get their first in-person look at star rookie defenceman Seth Jones on Thursday night.
Maple Leafs rookie Morgan Rielly already knows what to expect from the big defender. The two played together in an atom hockey tournament in Edmonton when they were kids. They also battled against each other in the Western Hockey League last season, as well as at the world junior championship, where Jones helped the U.S. win the gold medal.
"He's a great player," Rielly said. "He's earned everything he has gotten. He's a great skater and I think he has a high hockey IQ. He also has great hands."
Jones was ranked No. 1 for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but slid down to the fourth pick, where Nashville grabbed him.
Rielly said he was surprised, but added, "I don't think he's too worried about it. I think there are probably some teams that if they could go back and do it again they might do it differently, but who knows?"Kadri's back
Centre Nazem Kadri has served his three-game suspension
and will play Thursday against the Predators. He regrets his actions, but also knows the style of hockey he plays is a balancing act between playing clean and potentially crossing that line.
"It has been a long week, but I've put in some work and I'm ready to go," Kadri said. "Sometimes I like to use that physical play to get myself into the game when things maybe aren't going so well, but in the past I've never had an incident like that where my hits are questioned.
"Normally I'll hit guys when they are vulnerable, but I'll make sure my arms and shoulders are down. That's something I have to pay attention to for the rest of the year. I'm not one to go out of my way to try to hurt somebody."Line juggling
With Kadri's suspension over, Carlyle did a little line juggling at practice. Kadri was slotted between wingers James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel, newcomer Peter Holland was between Mason Raymond and Nikolai Kulemin, Trevor Smith skated between Joffrey Lupul and David Clarkson, and Jarred Smithson was with Jay McClement and Colton Orr.
A fifth line of Frazer McLaren, Carter Ashton and Tyler Bozak was also assembled.Fraser gets skating lesson
Injured defenceman Mark Fraser went through a tutorial with skating coach Barb Underhill and then joined his teammates for practice. He is out with a lower-body injury. Centre Tyler Bozak (pulled hamstring) also practised and afterwards Carlyle said both players are close to returning to the lineup.
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