On Thursday, the Maple Leafs’ reaction to Wednesday night’s 4-1 loss to the Bruins was pretty predictable.
Sure, they are down, 1-0, in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals, but they expect a marathon series and not a sprint, and believe they can certainly play better than they did.
The Leafs’ biggest issue was the number of turnovers that led to Bruins’ scoring chances. The neutral zone was a virtual den of pickpockets in which Toronto skated out of it without the puck time and time again, which left it wondering what happened.
The Bruins also negated the Leafs’ speed. So, on Thursday at Walter Brown Arena, the Leafs got back to the drawing board, with some changes.
Ex-Bruin Phil Kessel was given a maintenance day, with Ryan Hamilton stepping into his spot during practice.
Defenseman Michael Kostka was absent because of a fractured index finger suffered during the second period Wednesday when he was hit by a shot, and defenseman Cody Franson was out with a bruise as a result of being struck by a shot. Kostka will be replaced in Game 2 by Jake Gardiner or Ryan O’Byrne.
Coach Randy Carlyle said there will be some adjustments based on player health, as well as trying to get back to playing the way they should.
“We felt that we didn’t do some things we’re capable of doing, and we have to work on them,’’ said Carlyle, who promised changes up front. “The first thing is to control the puck more effectively and move the puck more effectively. We did a poor job in management of the puck in all three zones.’’
The coaches were less interested in dwelling on what happened than focusing on how to change it for Game 2.
“We really can’t change what we did [Wednesday],’’ said Carlyle. “We just have to regroup, reset, refocus, and get ourselves in the prep mode for Saturday. We’ve got to get more from our group from a work ethic standpoint and execution standpoint. We didn’t execute very well and we didn’t get anything really going for our hockey club.
“You always have to credit the opposition. They played a hard, trapping game and they forced us to make some mistakes and we didn’t handle the pressure they applied to us very well. Turnovers always rear their ugly head in an ugly game when you’re on the wrong side of the score, and turnovers are an area where we have to improve dramatically.’’
Having said that, Carlyle said there were a couple of positives to take from Game 1.
“We didn’t execute to the level, but our work ethic was high,’’ he said. “We were physical when we needed to be. We had quite a few hits but we didn’t win enough of the one-on-one puck battles. That was the biggest disappointment for us, but as far as our compete level, we competed, but then we got frustrated and then we got discouraged.’’
Kessel was ineffective in Game 1, as was duly noted by fans and the media. The lone Toronto goal was scored by former University of New Hampshire star James van Riemsdyk. Carlyle expects more from his star players.
“It’s not any different than any other sport,’’ said Carlyle. “When your big guys are leading the way, that’s what you look for. That’s why they’re paid the money they’re paid and the pressure goes with that. In the playoffs, you seem to find there are always heroes that emerge within the game and over the course of the series. [Wednesday] for a young guy like [the Bruins’] Wade Redden who’s been ostracized from the game in a lot of ways over the last couple of years, he comes back in and scores a big goal and gets an assist. Going back to our big guys, we expect them to play the game to a higher level than they did [in Game 1]. It’s not one or two individuals. We’d rather focus on our team game and our team game has to improve for Saturday.’’
Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf echoed what the players said after practice, which is that they know they have to be better, and they will be.
“Obviously, we weren’t happy with the way that we played,’’ said Phaneuf. “We feel we can play a lot better and we’re going to have to do that. We’ve got to raise our game. We expect more out of ourselves. As a team we’ve got to be a little bit smarter with the puck. We know that.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.