Leafs getting initiated to Carlyle's style on off days
ETOBICOKE, Ont. -- The Toronto Maple Leafs continue their chase for a playoff berth Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre. For the last two days, they've been going through training camp, Randy Carlyle style, here at Mastercard Centre.
After spending nearly 90 minutes on the ice Sunday, including the last 20 doing conditioning sprints, the Leafs were put through the paces again Monday for nearly two hours. They won their first game under Carlyle on Saturday in Montreal, but initiation to his drills, systems, expectations and his overall demanding ways came in the form of two ruthless practice sessions in a 28-hour span.
"For me (it is training camp) in some degree and for the players a little bit," Carlyle said during his 16-minute session with a large media contingent on Monday. "I don't think they spent an hour and a half or close to two hours on the ice back to back in days, but that's all part of the learning curve that we feel is necessary to get our message (across) and to sell our program to these players at this time."
The players say they're buying in. In reality, they don't have much choice with a playoff berth still within their grasp.
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The Leafs enter Tuesday's game as the 12th-place team in the Eastern Conference with 67 points. They were three points back of eighth-place Winnipeg before the Jets took on the Sabres on Monday night.
"He is pretty clear in what he wants and where he wants you to be on the ice at certain points," Toronto defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said. "(A renewed energy) usually happens when you get a new voice in the room, and that's just good for us. That's exactly what we needed. We're jumping and hopefully we can do that against Boston."
Carlyle and assistant coaches Dave Farrish and Scott Gordon each spent time scribbling on the white board and lecturing during practice Monday. The dry erase board needed a wet towel to get some of the black ink off by the end of practice.
Carlyle went over drills with the defensemen, a maligned group in ex-coach Ron Wilson's final days. Farrish talked to the penalty killers. Gordon met with the power play guys, though Carlyle jumped into that session as well. He hovered around them all, in fact.
He said he's not concerned about teaching too much at this late stage of the season because it's imperative the players understand precisely what he will ask of them during games.
"You're always going to ask the same questions," Carlyle said. "Did we do enough? Did we do the right things? It's similar to training camp. I actually try to make a physical checklist, have we covered enough of the things? When people ask me if you've overexposed, overcoached or tried to push too much at them, I don't think that's quite possible in the situation I've been presented here."
In addition to teaching, Carlyle has also been trying to get to know the players and understand the personnel GM and President Brian Burke has put at his disposal.
He doesn't expect to have a comfort level with them right away -- he even said that, to a degree, there is never going to be a total amount of comfort between him and the players. However, he said he'll definitely be honest with them.
"The less fibs that you tell, then you don't have to have a good memory," Carlyle joked. "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember that the fib is something you stretched. It's important that I be as honest and open and forward with the players because that's how I feel."
In one of his first forays into the players' minds, Carlyle met Monday morning with captain Dion Phaneuf to go over what he expects out of the coach-to-captain relationship.
"His role is to be a good solid teammate, to sometimes be a go-between for the coach and the players," said Carlyle, who worked with captains Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim. "If there are things that I'm doing that are upsetting him or his teammates I think it's important that they have the comfort to come to one of the assistants or come to me and tell me about it. Let me know, because it's important that I have the pulse of what these players are thinking."
He said he's also spoken to Luke Schenn and Mike Komisarek about how they have to play a physical game in order to be effective.
"It's similar to training camp. I actually try to make a physical checklist, have we covered enough of the things? When people ask me if you've overexposed, overcoached or tried to push too much at them, I don't think that's quite possible in the situation I've been presented here." -- Maple Leafs' coach Randy Carlyle
"All I'm asking them to do is play to their strengths," Carlyle said, "and we as a coaching staff have tried to define their roles as quickly as possible."
The defense, in particular Schenn and Komisarek, has taken a fair amount of the criticism for the Leafs' shortcomings, especially during their recent 1-9-1 plunge. Carlyle, a former Norris Trophy winner, is working with that group to make sure it is tighter in its own zone that it was under Wilson.
"We weren't backing up our goalies, and it was costing us games," Komisarek told NHL.com. "We're working on different things in practice to tighten it up."
"We're going to continually focus on being somewhat more conservative as far as giving people up in the offensive zone," Carlyle added.
As for the goaltenders, Carlyle said he will stick to not divulging the starter, something he did for his entire run in Anaheim. He said it's born out of his superstitions.
"We make a decision as a coaching staff to put the goaltender in who has the best chance to give us success," Carlyle said. "And the goaltender that plays is not expected to go out and be our savior. He's expected to give us a chance to win. That's what we ask of them."
Carlyle spent the last two days asking a lot of his new team, one that wasn't accustomed to working quite this hard and long in practice. While it is all in preparation for Tuesday's game against Boston, there is a deeper meaning to the mini training camp the Leafs just completed.
"We've asked them not to dwell on the task at hand in the big picture, take it in small pictures and focus on the process," Carlyle said. "The process is what happened in the last two days. The skating, the system work, the conditioning work, all those things are part of the process. That's what they've been focused on, and they've been very good at it.
"We feel this group has worked hard here the last couple of days."