Leafs can learn from Team Canada's defensive style | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaLeafs can learn from Team Canada's defensive style

Posted: Monday, February 24, 2014 | 04:33 PM

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Returning Olympian Phil Kessel, left, is expected to play a big part in the Maple Leafs’ playoff push. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press) Returning Olympian Phil Kessel, left, is expected to play a big part in the Maple Leafs’ playoff push. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

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There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the defensive style Team Canada played to win the gold medal at the Winter Olympics.
There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the defensive style Team Canada played to win the gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle hopes his players were taking notes.

"I looked at it and hope our players understand that defence does win," Carlyle said. "That game was played at a very high pace, but defence for both hockey clubs was very evident in the way they approached it and how they tried to set up their defensive schemes."

Team Canada had trouble scoring, but when you limit the opposition to just three goals over six games, well, your chances of winning are greatly enhanced.

The Maple Leafs have done the opposite this season. They have no trouble scoring goals, but keeping them out of their net is a different story. Even though his team is 7-2-1 in its last 10 games, Carlyle is not satisfied with the style of hockey the Maple Leafs play.

And he is right. Offensive hockey is entertaining, but defensive hockey wins championships.

"I think there are areas where we have proven to ourselves that if we do these things well, we give ourselves a chance for success," Carlyle said. "I still say our hockey club is very much a work in progress. We've given up far too many shots which have been scoring chances. We've relied on our goaltenders too heavily. Those at the things we're trying to focus on and tighten up. And we've got to compete to a higher level; it's as simple as that."

Returning Olympians

Left-winger Nikolai Kulemin was able to re-join the Maple Leafs last week for practice after Russia was eliminated from the Olympic tournament, but Toronto has yet to see American forwards Phil Kessel or James van Riemsdyk. Kessel was supposed to land in Toronto this morning while van Riemsdyk stayed behind to visit family in New Jersey, and was taking a later flight to Toronto Monday evening.

Carlyle said he had no concerns about the pair being injured at the Olympic Games.

"Those thoughts never really entered my mind as far as if they were going to come back healthy," Carlyle said. "I don't think you can ever go into those situations and say, 'Oh geez, I'm worried to death that this player is going to get hurt.' You could drive yourself crazy."

While Carlyle expects both players to be in the lineup for Thursday's road game on Long Island, he believes they deserve a little rest, too.

Carlyle said he didn't know if either player would practise Wednesday. In fact, he said the two Olympians may take Friday off, too.

"I think both guys deserve more than one day off," the coach said. "It will depend on how they feel and the feedback I get from them. I think it's important to get back and join our hockey club as quickly as possible, but we have to respect what they have done and where they have been."

Injury update

Centres Trevor Smith and David Bolland continue to work hard to get back into the lineup. Smith suffered a broken hand Dec. 17 while it has been nearly five months since Bolland had his Achilles tendon sliced.

"Smith is closer [to returning] than Bolland, and Bolland is getting really close," Carlyle said.
Bolland is getting anxious to get back into the lineup, but understands with his injury, it is all about being patient.

"When you break a finger or break an ankle, which I wish it was, you know you can come back in six weeks or two months or whatever," Bolland said. "This is not really one of those hockey injuries where we know when a guy can come back. It's about my progression. For me it's about progressing every day."

Gunnarsson laments

Toronto defenceman Carl Gunnarsson, a Swede, said none of his Canadian teammates have yet to give him the business about Canada blanking Sweden 3-0 in the gold medal game.

"Maybe they are saving it for me," Gunnarsson joked. "It's been okay. Everybody saw the game. The first period was kind of even and then Canada was the better team; no doubt about it."

Gunnarsson said he and about 50 friends - half Canadians and half Swedes - went to a small theatre to watch the game.

"There was lots of chirping,' Gunnarsson joked. "We had a good time. It was pretty cool walking home from the game and seeing Canadians celebrating at 10 in the morning. Even though, of course, I wanted Sweden to win. It's pretty cool being in Canada when Canada wins."

Gunnarsson said it certainly didn't help his country's cause to be without injured Henrik Sedin, Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg. Then to losing Nicklas Backstrom to a failed drug test was fatal.

"Canada's lineup is unbelievable, they had a good game and if you want to compete against a team like that it certainly doesn't help to have a couple of top liners off the roster,"

Gunnarsson said. "It was a tough one. I think the guys tried to battle and then [Canada] got the first and the second goals. Canada is such a good defensive team and if they get one or two goals, that is tough. It seemed like Sweden didn't have the energy to push back."

The final stretch

With 22 regular-season game remaining, Carlyle said his team must focus on taking it one game at a time.

"We have always tried to take on the mantra here that the next game is the most important one," Carlyle said. "That way we don't get too far ahead of ourselves; we don't look to the future...don't look to the next period or the next shift. I think we have to stay focused on the now and what's directly ahead of us."

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