Want to snap a six-game losing streak? Try getting off to a good start.
Poor beginnings have been a common theme for the Toronto Maple Leafs
during a six-game losing drought that has caused them to slip out of playoff position with just eight games remaining in the regular season.
For a team that was determined to improve on last year's first-round exit from the post-season, the Maple Leafs haven't exactly set themselves up for improvement.
Two days after they were manhandled
by the St. Louis Blues, coach Randy Carlyle was still talking about his team's dreadful start in that game. The Leafs trailed 2-1 after one period and were outshot 23-7. That's the most shots the team has given up in one period in the past seven seasons.
Carlyle spent a good portion of Thursday's practice at MasterCard Centre with the whiteboard in his hand, teaching. Yes, it seems a little weird at this stage of the season for a coach to spend that much time schooling his players, but when your team has lost its way, you do what you have to do.
Carlyle did not agree with the notion that this was too much instruction for this time of year.
"When you have a day off [the Leafs had two idle days ahead of Friday night's game in Philadelphia], you have to make use of the time available to you. You choose some things you'd like to work on and you review them and try to reinforce and try to get better at them."
One thing the Maple Leafs clearly have to improve on is their habit of getting off to horrible starts to games.
"The area we feel we can improve on is puck possession," Carlyle said. "We just slap the puck away at the beginning of the hockey game and that led to the barrage [against St. Louis]. They did a good job of spreading us out when they got the puck and we had a hard time getting it back from them for the period."Pressure? What pressure?
The Maple Leafs were grilled about the pressure they are under, having lost six straight and with a playoff spot now in jeopardy. Carlyle, to his credit, has tried to keep things light.
"The more you talk about it or the more you focus on the tightness, the harder it is to flush," Carlyle said. "So we have to be prepared to look at the positives that are in the hockey game and the things we have done well and not focus on the negatives.
"Pressure comes from within, it comes from the outside, it comes from everywhere. I think the amount of pressure you put on yourself to perform is really and truly who you have to answer to."'Hostile environment'
Carlyle knows getting wins in Philadelphia is never an easy task. His Maple Leafs, however, did beat the Flyers 3-1 in Philadelphia on Oct. 2, thanks to a pair of goals by David Bolland.
"We're going to go into a hostile environment and we know that," the coach said. "The issue for us is to focus on what we do. When you play teams that are going to come after you, you have to skate. If you're going to stand there and you're in a street fight and you're not going to move, if you allow somebody to swing away, you're going to get hit.
"If you move and try to avoid the hit, you're not going to get hit as many times."
Phil Kessel, who ranks third in the NHL scoring race
with 77 points, and fourth in goals with 36, knows getting the jump on the Flyers is a difficult task.
"They come hard," Kessel said. "They're a tough team... a good team. They're playing real well now, so it's going to be a tough game."
Lack of shots
The Maple Leafs are constantly outshot by the opposition, and quite frequently at the start of a game it takes them a while to register their first shot on goal. Such was the case against the Blues on Tuesday, when they didn't get their first shot until six minutes in.
"I think you guys worry about that more than we do," Kessel said. "As you see, we've done that before and won games. People take way too much of that into account. Obviously we have to start better, but if we don't get a shot in the first five minutes of the second period, does anybody say anything?"Line juggling
Carlyle moved Mason Raymond to the left wing on a line with Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul. That means the right-shooting Lupul switches to right wing from the left side that he prefers.
Nikolai Kulemin drops down to the third line on the left side with centre David Bolland and right-winger David Clarkson. Kulemin, who shoots left, has enjoyed more success playing on his off wing on the right side.Ranger ready?
The Maple Leafs could probably use a big body like defenceman Paul Ranger against the tough Flyers, but neither the player nor his coach have determined if he's ready to return to the lineup. He has been out with a sore neck
after being hit from behind last week.
Asked if he was ready to play, Ranger said, "I'm not sure yet. I felt pretty good, but I have to talk to the trainers and doctors to see if they'll clear me to play. If I can help in any way, I'm going to."
Added Carlyle: "He looks good today and we'll see what the medical staff and [Rangers] has to say about where he is at and how he feels."
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