Finding motivation during a rough patch is never easy.
In the beginning of 2015, the Leafs were coming up short in games and it was easy to point to some bad luck. A better brand of defensive hockey wasn’t yielding positive results.
But it’s become more than that.
“I think if you lose two games in a row and you hit a couple of posts and stuff you can kind of blame it on bad luck,” said Peter Holland. “But when you lose 14 of 18 games I think luck has nothing to do with it at that point. You just aren’t playing good enough.”
The results have bred negativity. Sunday’s trade involving the departure of Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli, signalled a departure to post-season aspirations. There’s no ignoring the facts.
“You can try and downplay it and say it’s not on your mind, but it is,” said Joffrey Lupul. “From 7pm to 10pm you should be able to put that stuff aside. Everyone still has something to play for in here. Some guys want to make an impression while there are some guys who may get moved to a contender. And you want to play well for yourself and your teammates.”
There are players like Morgan Rielly who are able to benefit from more ice time. Rookies like Petter Granberg are also hoping to make an impact.
“It’s the NHL, this is the league you strive for, I try not to take it for granted,” said forward Brandon Kozun, who on Tuesday played in his first game with the Leafs since December 10th. “Every day I’m here I’m going to work as hard as I can and try to prove myself, and try to stick in this league.”
During Wednesday’s practice, the Leafs wrapped up the session with a little shooting competition that involved a disputed goal with Phil Kessel. It’s a small thing, but it showed a little bit of spirit.
“That’s what you want to see out of it, the competition and competitiveness come out of it,” said Leafs interim coach Peter Horachek. “The net got pushed back and they are arguing if it should have counted or not, I want to see that kind of passion, that kind of direction, I want to see that in the games. I want to see them hungry. I want to see them fighting for their position in the game.”
There is still an element of pride that hasn’t been lost on the Leafs. Some are just finding it harder to find motivation than others.
“I think everyone has their different cues for whatever gets guys up for games,” Holland said. “For me, I love being a Toronto Maple Leaf, it was a dream come true. I was a Maple Leaf fan growing up, this is where I want to play the rest of my career if I could, so for me it’s easy to get up for games. I love playing here. I love playing in front of this fan base. I love the market, I love the city. For me, it’s not as hard I guess as it is for other guys.”
There is no timeline for a return for Joffrey Lupul (lower-body injury), Dion Phaneuf (hand) and Trevor Smith (undisclosed). Horachek confirmed that Phaneuf and Smith will be unavailable for at least the weekend games. David Clarkson took part in practice and was no worse for wear after he left Tuesday’s game, taking a puck to his leg.