TORONTO – Toronto Maple Leafs players believe their top priority now is finding consistency.
That was the message the players delivered following their first practice under interim coaches Peter Horachek and Steve Spott after coach Randy Carlyle was fired Tuesday. Horachek and Spott are expected to run the bench when the Maple Leafs play the Washington Capitals on Wednesday at Air Canada Centre.
"We have to find a way to become more consistent," said defenseman Dion Phaneuf. "Because we have shown we have a group that can play. We have to build that from within. It's up to us as players to build it."
MAPLE LEAFS FIRE RANDY CARLYLE
"For the last little bit here that is what it has been about," said right wing and leading scorer Phil Kessel
. "We play well for stretches and then we just lose our game. That's disappointing. It's not Randy's fault that we have been playing bad."
There have been times this season when the Maple Leafs looked to be ready to challenge for the Eastern Conference title, including when they went 10-1-1 between Nov. 20 and Dec. 16 following a 9-2 home loss to the Nashville Predators on Nov. 18. Since the hot streak, the Maple Leafs have lost two straight and seven of their past nine games.
"In our business when you have the swings we have had, we haven't been able to find consistency as a team, then you know something is going to happen," Phaneuf said. "When you have a stretch of games that we just went through where you lose seven of nine, there are lots of questions being asked. That said, when I came in I was definitely surprised by the news."
Former Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson, who held the job prior to Carlyle, was interviewed on Toronto radio and said the core of the team has gone through, "two or three coaches." He wondered if it isn't time to consider adjusting the core group of players.
Asked if it's time the focus turns to the players and not the coaching staff, Phaneuf said, "That is a very fair question for you or anyone to ask. The bottom line is we, as players, have got to get the job done. This is a result-oriented business and we are expected to win hockey games."
Kessel was asked about his relationship with Carlyle and said, "It was fine. I think every relationship has its ups and downs. Obviously I am not excited to see him go. I'm disappointed because it's a reflection on us as a group that we didn't get it done."
Defenseman Cody Franson has taken his game to the next level under Carlyle and said he will miss the former coach.
"I thought he was a guy who focused on the details and the little things it takes to win, and it's an unfortunate part of the game," Franson said. "Sometimes tough decisions have to be made. I wish nothing but the best for him."
After home games Wednesday and Friday, the Maple Leafs will play nine of their next 11 games on the road. Kessel and Phaneuf agree it is up to the players to right the ship.
"We are going to play our hearts out," Kessel said. "Obviously we want to win and we want to stay together as a group. We have a great group here and we want to win together."
"The message for us as players is we haven't got the job done," Phaneuf said. "We haven't played consistent enough and we have lost far too many games by not playing the way we are capable of. We have played well for stretches this year but our consistency has not been there and ultimately this decision is because of our consistency. For us now we have got to move forward and find our game. We are still in a good spot. We're right there, but we have let teams gain ground on us and we have to gain traction."