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New Month, Renewed Hope

by Paul Hendrick / Toronto Maple Leafs


The Leafs open up the month of February on Tuesday night in Nashville following a challenging January that saw the club win just once.

The Leafs practised for 90 minutes on Monday in Nashville minus Trevor Smith who has returned home to attend to a personal matter and will not play against the Predators, according to the team.

Tuesday's game will serve as a homecoming for head coach Peter Horachek and defenceman Cody Franson.

Horachek was an assistant alongside former Predators head coach Barry Trotz for nine seasons while Franson was drafted by the organization. He played here for two seasons after two previous seasons with their farm team in Milwaukee.

Horachek returns to Bridgestone Arena for the first time in a capacity as head coach. The Leafs have struggled to score since he took over for Randy Carlyle but the transition has seen improvements defensively.

"They're certainly embracing what I'm saying but I would still like more," said Horachek. "There are areas where we'd like to have more detail, we're (the coaching staff) learning and they're (the players) learning. We're disappointed and frustrated a little bit because we're not getting the results, but we're improving in the areas that we want them to improve in."

On Saturday in Philadelphia the Leafs held the Flyers to just 18 shots on goal but failed to score a goal themselves. In fact, the Leafs have been held to one or fewer goals in eight of their last nine games.

The quest for balance at either end of the ice will be a challenge against a Predator team that beat the Leafs 9-2 last November.

Jonathan Bernier has been given the starting assignment to get Toronto headed in a different direction. He recorded his first shutout as a Leaf in Nashville on October 10, 2013 in a 4-0 win over the Predators.

Although he's recieved only two goals support in his last six starts, Bernier acknowledges that he has to better.

"I put the blame on myself too. You've got to find a way to win as a goalie. You can steal wins for your team and I haven't done that lately, so I've got to be better."

Bernier added, "whether we score one or two goals you've got to focus on yourself and do your job."

Here were the Leaf lines in practice today and likely combinations for Tuesday's game:

21 van Riemsdyk - 42 Bozak - 81 Kessel

26 Winnik - 43 Kadri - 19 Lupul

47 Komarov - 24 Holland - 71 Clarkson

20 Booth - 25 Santorelli - 18 Panik

51 Gardiner - 4 Franson

44 Rielly - 46 Polak

55 Holzer - 8 Granberg

12 Robidas

The Leafs are 7-2 on Tuesday nights as they strive for their first road victory since New Years Eve in Boston.

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