The Maple Leafs had their six-game winning streak snapped on Thursday. It happened against the Carolina Hurricanes, a team ranked at the bottom of the NHL standings.
In what’s been a Jekyll and Hyde season, the Leafs have had great showings against teams ranked higher in the standings, while other games have been more of a challenge.
Toronto fell to 5-7-1 this season when taking on opponents who have a .500 record or worse. Counter to that, the Leafs are 14-3-2 against above .500 teams.
While that seems to boggle the minds of many, it’s actually common. It becomes a source of motivation when a team takes on one of the better opponents in the NHL.
“We were excited to measure ourselves up against the Stanley Cup Champs and again tonight,” said Joffrey Lupul following the Leafs win against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday.
Thursday’s game against Carolina marked the first game against an opponent below .500, during the Leafs season high six-game winning streak. A game in which the Leafs fell short.
“There’s different emotions that come into different games and different players, but as players it’s our job to prepare the same way night in and night out because that’s our job,” said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. “Whether it’s a Saturday night game here, an original six matchup, a rivalry, we have to prepare the same way. Last night we did not prepare the right way, we weren’t sharp early and it cost us.”
On Saturday, the Leafs will take on another sub .500 opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers. For James van Reimsdyk, too many games have passed since departing Philly, in order for this to be a revenge game of any sort. But, any source of motivation can help.
“Certainly there’s games, a rivalry game, or you know you’re going into a tough building, there are games where some are going to be easier to be jacked up more for than others,” said James van Reimsdyk. “But our job as hockey players is to get ready for everyone the same is to prepare the same and hopefully be ready to play.”
It’s the regular ebb and flow of an 82 game season. And the Leafs are still learning.
“That’s always how it is,” said van Riemsdyk. “The most consistent players find a way to get up for every single game.”
Throughout the last month, a recurring problem lies around shots given up by the opposition and dictating the play. There were games during the Leafs most recent win streak where the issues were still there, but Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer stood tall against the onslaught.
With a heavy road schedule a head, the Leafs can only try to learn from the last game.
“There’s a heavy work load coming so it can’t be all doom and gloom, when you come to work, we believe you have to come in a positive frame of mind,” said Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. “We met before, we went over some video. We explained what we were seeing, we explained how we perceived it has to change going forward and we find that if you can lighten up the start of practice, it usually is more productive and you get a more productive group coming tomorrow, which we feel is the most important day.”
Leo Komarov skated for about 25 minutes with strength and conditioning coach Anthony Belza, prior to Friday’s practice.
“It’s the first step back into the process,” said Carlyle. “But any player returning (from concussion) has to be testing himself both in the gym and on the ice. He’s in the testing mode.”
It was just the second time Komarov put on skates since suffering a concussion at the hands of Alex Ovechkin on November 29th. Komarov last skated on December 4th as part of a morning skate.
Change of lines up front, but will it stick?
Joffrey Lupul and James van Reimsdyk changed lines during Friday’s practice, a move which was done to start the third period of the Leafs loss against Carolina. It’s a switch that may or may not happen against the Flyers.
“I thought we were getting a little bit more from that group and who knows, we can change back (Saturday),”said Carlyle. “We don’t know if we’re going to go with that specifically, but we liked what we saw last night.”