Although the Maple Leafs got some much-needed relief on Saturday, a daunting task still remains.
There are 28 games left in the regular season. The team was in a playoff spot to begin 2015, only to see it disappear during their recent slide. Following their win against the Oilers, the Leafs now find themselves 13 points out of the final wild card spot. The chances aren’t very favourable and they’re quite aware of it.
“There are still too many games left in the season to be like ‘Oh well, if we rattle off a 10-game win streak and these guys go 2-8…’ The scenarios don’t look very good right now,” Joffrey Lupul said. “All we can do is focus on tomorrow’s game and after that, move on.”
The win on Saturday was a validation of the effort the team had put in as of late, an effort that wasn’t reflected by their 0-10-1 stretch. The focus on better defensive play and more possession became a sense of frustration. They knew the work they were putting in was the formula for success, but the results were always in favour of the opposition.
Lupul was away for all but four of the team’s 11 games. A fresh set of eyes surely could reinforce a positive message.
“I certainly tried to, I said it to a lot of guys every night. You can be positive while you are out but it’s tough to critique and tough to say you need to do this and need to do that,” Lupul added. “Because the truth is you’re not out there competing with the other guys who are out on a long road trip. There were some positives, but there’s a big negative that we were in a playoff spot at Christmas, and now we’re in a pretty desperate situation.”
In the 11th game, James Reimer shared some very candid comments about the way his team had been playing. An unexpected starter due to an illness to Jonathan Bernier, Reimer backed up his words with a near-shutout performance.
Speaking your mind can sometimes be alienating. But the coach embraced it.
“I think that’s a great leadership move on his part,” said Horachek of Reimer. “He’s not happy, he’s angry and he showed passion. He almost demanded passion from the rest of his teammates and I didn’t think we were very strong in Jersey, we were soft. He’s not the type of guy who speaks up like that a lot and that’s what you need sometimes.”
Reimer will get the nod in goal on Tuesday against the Rangers.
And thus begins the Leafs journey to put the past 11 games behind them. There is noise that comes with a looming trade deadline. For Lupul, it’s about showing resolve and eliminating the mistakes.
“You want to show to your teammates and to other people who are watching, whether it’s management or fans or whatever, you don’t want to be the individual who someone’s like ‘this guy isn’t playing hard anymore,’ you certainly don’t want to do that,” said Lupul. “It’s times like this where there are big negative stretches that show a lot about a person’s character. You certainly want to keep playing hard and do the things you were doing if you were two points out of a playoff spot.”
While initially, it looked like Phaneuf could make a return to the lineup soon, he was put on the injured reserve on Saturday.
“A few days ago, I would have pushed it back to another week,” Horachek said. “It could be shorter than that but we really have to see how it’s coming along.”
Phaneuf has missed the last six games with a hand injury.
David Clarkson was a healthy scratch on Saturday night. It was the first time since his arrival in Toronto that he missed a game that wasn’t due to suspension/injury.
“I think the way things were going for the whole team, it’s never easy,” said Clarkson. “But it’s behind me, and getting ready for tomorrow.”
Clarkson’s lineup status is up in the air.