The Re-Learning Curve
The Maple Leafs knew coming into this season that being a hardhitting, gloves-dropping, grinding team is what ended a nine-year playoff drought last spring.
Yet, these things are so easy to forget.
So not that Randy Carlyle was looking for a loss, but as a coach, he knows it's a lot easier to get the attention of players after a defeat than after a string of wins.
The Leafs got away with playing a wide-open, loosey-goosey style in thei opening three games, sort of Ron Wilson hockey but with good penalty killing.
That, however, wasn't good enough against a young, talented and spirited Colorado team on Tuesday, and it almost certainly won't be a formula for success in Nashville on Thursday night. The Predators are just 1-2, having picked up their first win of the season on Tuesday at home againt Minnesota, but in their 15th season under head coach Barry Trotz they are, not surprisingly, playing the same style of hardworking, close-checking, non-flashy hockey that has produced a string of successful seasons before finishing 14th in the west last season.
They've got a couple of eye-catching freshman in Filip Forsberg and Seth Jones - who played his second straight game of 25-plus minutes against the Wild - but otherwise it's the same group with Pekka Rinne in net, Dave Legwand and Mike Fisher up the middle, Patric Hornqvist supplying some spurts of offence and big Shea Weber on the back end.
They lost Ryan Suter to the Wild before last season - he was booed every time he touched the puck at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday - and dealt Martin Erat to Washington for Forsberg last winter. Still, this isn't a team looking to transform itself. They are one of the few NHL clubs that has been able to establish a consistent team personality, largely because it's Trotz behind the bench every year.
So the Preds know who they are. The Leafs needed to remember who they are, or were. It was a tight 2-1 loss to the Avs that could have gone either way, but if the Leaf blueline wasn't creating it's own problems, it was having problems created for it by a group of forwards who are mostly thinking about attacking and not defending these days.
That's what happens when you score 11 goals in three straight wins over Montreal, Philly and Ottawa. Jay McClement should be back for Thursday to help re-set the correct mindset, but the game against Nashville should be the perfect tonic for what ails the Leafs as only a cohesive, hardnosed approach is likely to work.
With Mark Fraser, Nik Kulemin, Frazer McClaren and McClement out against Colorado, the Leafs were without some of the players who tend to set the hit-first, ask-questions-later tone for Toronto. David Clarkson, still with six games to serve of his suspension, is likely going to be that kind of player as well.
It's easy for other forwards to think that to compensate they have to create more offence, but Carlyle, you can bet, will be lecturing them today that actually the opposite is true, that more attention to defensive and being a consistently physical club is what is required.