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A Team On Notice

by David Alter / Toronto Maple Leafs

Through the midway point of his first season as team President, Brendan Shanahan has a pretty good idea of what the team’s identity is. Randy Carlyle’s dismissal on Monday certainly won’t be the last change that is made if the current play continues.

“Most teams that have success in the NHL don’t beat themselves,” Shanahan said. “We are often our own worst enemies.”

The Leafs have been hot and cold through the course of the season. During the stretches of success, they have been the benefactor of high scoring and taking advantage of their opportunities.

But defence is an issue that has plagued them, and Shanahan has made his opinion loud and clear, both today in public and behind closed doors.

“Being where we are in goals against, being where we are in shots against, it’s not acceptable.”

The Leafs have the sixth worst goals against average (3.10) and are second worst in shots against (34.2 per game).

Everything has been put in question, from the leadership in the dressing room, to playing the right way on the ice.

Shanahan let it be known that management have a strong feeling of what the team is right now, but wouldn’t share it, noting that opinions can change. The second half of the year presents an opportunity for players to take the onus on themselves to improve.

“The entire team, we’re going to learn a lot more. There’s a lot more pressure on them and they know it. They know that individually some of them have to be better. As a team we have to be better. We’ve had meetings with players on the team and we’ve expressed that we’re not going to back off of them. It’s going to be a big challenge and we’re going to learn a lot of things about our core in the coming weeks.”

More resources from management have been deployed to help the Leafs in trying to improve on the ice.

The addition of Steve Staios to the coaching staff will help a lot of players develop their skills with some solid one-on-one time.

It was just one game, but interim head coach Peter Horachek got his team to subscribe to a five-man defence, keeping shots against to their lowest total in over a month.

There is still lot to evaluate. Shanahan is still in the fact-finding portion of his tenure as team President, but he prefers to deal with players from within. His direct experience in the game is an asset to the players and one they can really learn from.

From the core players to the staff, the next 41 games will be the true test of the Leafs’ mettle. If they don’t prove to Shanahan that they can subscribe to the type of hockey that yields success, he won’t be afraid to take action and make the necessary changes.

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