After 10 games of the 2015-16 NHL campaign, the Maple Leafs were still looking to find their stride as they took the morning skate Monday before hosting the Dallas Stars at Air Canada Centre that night. And, thanks to the compressed regular-season schedule, it doesn’t get any easier. Toronto plays four times in the next six nights – including back-to-back games Friday at home against Detroit and Saturday against the host Washington Capitals.
Although that’s not a walk in the park for any team, the Leafs aren’t about to lie down and use the schedule as an excuse. All teams must deal with schedule irregularities and pressures, and Leafs head coach Mike Babcock accepts the challenge in his usual straightforward manner.
“I didn't even know (the schedule) was compressed,” Babcock said Monday. “I just know we have a game tonight and that's it.”
Babcock’s confidence was mirrored by defensemen Morgan Rielly.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Rielly said of the tough week ahead. “As pro athletes we want to be playing as often as we can, but we’re looking forward to getting back at it tonight. Then we’ve got to practice and play, practice and play, so we’re looking forward to the challenge. But we’re ready for it. It’s just a matter of taking care of the bodies, and getting ready to go back to work.”
A rigorous stretch is something most 21-year-olds such as Rielly can handle without thinking twice, but for NHL veterans in their thirties – Maple Leafs winger Brad Boyes, for instance – looking after their physical condition matters more than ever at times like this.
“The off-ice stuff is obviously something that’s important – the way you eat, sleep, all those things are going to be big,” Boyes said Monday. “We’ve got a lot of games…and you’ve always got to be at the top of your game. So you make sure you’re doing the right things and preparing properly.”
The Maple Leafs’ 1-7-2 start to the season isn’t ideal, but the team is seeing positives both behind the bench and in front of it in the first ten games of the year.
“I think we’ve had some times where we’ve played really well, we just haven’t got the results, we haven’t got any bounces.,” Reilly said. “It’s just a matter of keeping with it, keep working hard, and play the game plan. That’s the most important thing. We can’t turn the page and just play like we used to. We have to keep working at it and play a team game.”
“We obviously haven't been good enough,” Babcock said. “We haven't won games. I liked the way we played seven out of ten, three times I didn't like us at all. I've said a number of times that when things go wrong the stick-to-it-iveness that you need to be good at anything in life hasn't been what we're strong at.
“What we have to get better at, we have to trust one another, trust our structure and our work ethic and take care of the puck and have some success. I'm still a big believer that we can win with this group so that's what I'm selling every day.”