Randy Carlyle gets Maple Leafs on the ball | Hockey | CBC Sports

NHLRandy Carlyle gets Maple Leafs on the ball

Posted: Monday, March 31, 2014 | 02:49 PM

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Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle traded in the usual bucket of pucks for orange road-hockey balls at practice. (Fred Thornhill/Reuters) Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle traded in the usual bucket of pucks for orange road-hockey balls at practice. (Fred Thornhill/Reuters)

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Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle brought a little levity to morning practice when he tossed a couple of orange road-hockey balls onto the ice to begin proceedings.

Give Randy Carlyle credit.

The head coach of the beleaguered Toronto Maple Leafs attempted to bring a little levity to Monday morning's practice when he tossed a couple of orange road-hockey balls onto the ice at the start and let the players scrimmage.

Hey, road hockey worked just fine for Mike Babcock's Team Canada, eh?

It was not such a success for the Maple Leafs who, after eight straight losses, looked more like zombies auditioning for a remake of Night of the Living Dead.

While the Maple Leafs still have a slim mathematical chance of making the playoffs, they no longer control their own destiny. They will have to rely on help from other teams, even if they somehow manage to run the table and win their remaining six games. Wonder what the mathematical odds are of that happening for a team that has lost eight straight?

The Maple Leafs host the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night before hosting the Boston Bruins on Thursday and Winnipeg Jets on Saturday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 6:30 p.m. ET).

"We came to the rink today to try to refresh our group, get our group ready for tomorrow night," Carlyle said. "Obviously, with what happened Saturday night [a 4-2 loss to Detroit], nobody was feeling very good about themselves when they came to the rink.

"We find if you can add a little game before practice, it is kind of an icebreaker for us going out and being somewhat enthusiastic for practice. You seem to get more of a focused group because the first drill is always the toughest one after a day off."

Added goalie Jonathan Bernier: "It was good to get our minds off the pressure and it was a good warmup."

Sound of music

Carlyle knew he was up against it when he walked into the dressing room before practice and the silence was deafening.

"When you come in and you don't have any music playing in the room, that's a sure tell-tale sign," Carlyle said. "In a dressing room atmosphere, there's always a stereo that can blow you out of the building, but today it wasn't on."

Missing in action

The Maple Leafs were without right-winger Phil Kessel, left-winger James van Riemsdyk and defenceman Carl Gunnarsson at practice. Kessel has a foot injury after being nailed by a hard pass from van Riemsdyk in Saturday's game, but he is expected to play Tuesday. Van Riemsdyk and Gunnarsson should also be available.

Defending the whiteboard

Carlyle and his coaching staff again did a lot of teaching during practice, which seems a little strange this time of season. If the players haven't learned the system by now, they never will.

"The whiteboard stuff is not a major overhaul," Carlyle said. "We're trying to tweak some things that could possibly help us give ourselves the best chance.

"They are things we think are very easily correctable."

Long fall from grace

A year ago, David Bolland was well on his way to winning his second Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks. Now, after a serious injury sliced his season down considerably, he is with a team that likely will not participate in the playoffs. Bolland said he has never been through anything like Toronto's current eight-game slide.

Bolland, a veteran centre who knows what it takes to win, said the Maple Leafs have been too careless with the puck.

"As a team, we're just not playing great," he said. "We're just not doing the right things.

"Our turnovers are probably one of the big things that we need to correct - turnovers and getting the puck in deep and working it down low."

Only the Edmonton Oilers, with 881 giveaways, have more than Toronto's 837.

On the bright side

Maple Leafs centre Nazem Kadri has not given up hope of making the playoffs.

"It has been a tough 12 or 13 days," he said. "In a lot of those games, we felt we played well enough to win.

"We just haven't. We've got to get back to having fun, seeing some smiles around the dressing room and, hopefully, that activates our success."

Season from hell

The Maple Leafs had such high hopes for veteran right-winger David Clarkson when they signed him as an unrestricted free agent last summer, thinking he would bring both secondary scoring and leadership to the table. He has brought neither. With just four goals and 10 points in 54 games, Clarkson has been a far cry (offensively speaking) from the guy who scored 30 goals and 46 points in 80 games with the New Jersey Devils two years ago. He currently has no points in his past 16 games and is minus-8 in that span. His last point came Feb. 6.

Looking ahead

Nikolai Kulemin's agent Gary Greenstin was seen huddling with Maple Leafs contract negotiator Claude Loiselle during practice. Kulemin's contract expires after this season and there will likely be demand for his services from a few NHL teams as well as some KHL teams. With one assist and a minus-6 ranking in his past 12 games, it's hard to imagine what kind of leverage Kulemin has with Toronto.

Follow Mike Brophy on Twitter @HockeyBroph

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