TORONTO – Before his team was outmaneuvered by the Bruins on Saturday evening, Randy Carlyle deftly labeled his squad a ‘work in progress'.
“I don't like to get too far ahead of ourselves here as far as who's doing this, who's doing that, how great we are,” he said. “We need to settle down and play and become more consistent in all three zones before we start making any great claims of what we are.
“We're a work in progress.”
Another loss to the bully of the block and another member of the Eastern Conference elite – the Rangers loss was a similar testing ground – offered a suitable reminder of the work that lies ahead.
Boston stomped out their will at the Air Canada Centre, snatching the lead before dictating the grueling pace and style of game that probably wasn't as close as the 1-0 final indicated. “We didn't play to a high enough level to have the success that was required,” Carlyle said afterward. “That's the way they play and they're a good team. They did what they had to do to be effective to play a road game. We didn't do enough of the things that we're capable of to establish a strong home game in the 60 minutes.”
Stung by turnovers in their attempts to wade through the sludge of a crowded Bruins neutral zone – thereby limiting the forecheck – the Leafs generated little to no sustained offence, mustering what proved to be a season-low 21 shots at Tuukka Rask. “We were a little bit sloppy and it showed in our offensive chances,” said Cody Franson, who had a goal called off in the first frame. “We didn't sustain a lot of continued pressure in their end. They did a good job in the neutral zone of jamming us up a little bit and making it tough for us to get any consistent pace on our forecheck.”
“We've got to generate more than 20 shots on net,” Carlyle said. “We're a hockey club that has to be off on the forecheck and skating because that's our trademark, we're a skating team. I don't think we skated and we weren't effective with the puck in certain areas to allow us to skate.”
Franson appeared to knot the score at one when he blazed a puck past Rask from the blueline, but the effort was waved off on an account of Nazem Kadri interfering with the Bruins netminder. “Didn't look like he really even touched him,” Franson said of Kadri, before noting the difficulty of such a call for the officials.
Of considerable note was the extended dry spell of former Bruin Phil Kessel, who failed to score for the eighth consecutive game to start this season. Kessel was effectively bottled up, managing just three shots on goal with another four blocked outright.
Like their damning 5-2 loss to the Rangers just a week earlier, Saturday's effort was another lesson in the diligence required to beat a team of the Bruins caliber. Not big or bad enough to match Boston's edge or grit, the Leafs were unable to effectively establish their own ‘trademark' and thus dropped a game on home ice for the third time in four tries this season.
“They're big and they can be bad,” Carlyle said of the Bruins before the game, “but that's part of the process that your team has to grow into, you have to be prepared to compete against the big teams in the league and Boston's one of them.”
1. Kessel Drought
Still searching for his first goal with 36 shots after eight games, Phil Kessel is on pace for 216 shots or 4.5 per game, a rate that would be by far the highest of his career.
||Shots Per Game
While he had a sizeable number of chances in wins over Buffalo and Washington earlier in the week, Kessel was limited against Boston. He has just three goals in his career against the Bruins.
2. Reimer gives the Leafs a chance
Winless and among the battered Leafs from last season when Boston swept the season series, James Reimer had another sturdy effort on Saturday. Reimer made 33 saves and was perhaps the sole reason the game remained close. “James Reimer gave us a chance,” said Carlyle. “I thought he made some big stops.” The 25-year-old has been generally stable in the Toronto crease through five starts this season, compiling a 2.47 goals against average and .922 save percentage. “We're not asking to win us hockey games on a consistent basis,” Carlyle continued. “Yeah you always want your goalie to throw a shutout here and there, but the bottom line is that we ask our goaltenders to give us a chance and that's what he's been doing.” The Leafs are not expecting Vezina Trophy goaltending from the Manitoba native, but simply stability between the pipes. Aside from the odd bad goal in the early going – his consistency has to improve in that respect – Reimer can claim to have given his team at least a chance to win in every start so far. A prominent preseason topic, goaltending has proved an early source of some stability.
3. Confidence for Franson
Confidence dipped and then dipped lower still for Cody Franson a year ago. With a fresh new perspective, the 25-year-old taking steps to rebuild his game this winter under Randy Carlyle, dressing in his third consecutive game on Saturday. “Confidence is huge in this game,” he told TSN.ca before the Boston game. “It allows you to take that extra half-second to make a good play rather than rush something … Confidence is what you gives you that extra second of patience when you're under pressure or the comfortable feeling you get when you're getting chased down to get a puck and you don't just throw it away, you read where your guys are coming, make a soft chip or try and spin off a guy. Confidence plays a big part in that.” A constant source of fatigue under Ron Wilson, communication under Carlyle has proved an important part of the process for Franson. “Randy's done a very good job of communicating with us this year,” Franson said. “It makes it a lot easier when he's very straight-forward with you, lets you know where you stand, what you've got to do better, what it's going to take or whatever it may be. It's nice to know that whether it be good or bad that that's what you have to do in order to be successful here.”
4. McLaren Debut
Fraser McLaren stands an imposing six-foot-five, packed at 230 pounds. The Leafs newest recruit – picked off waivers from San Jose earlier this week – made his debut with the club against Boston on Saturday, totaling just over four minutes. While the 25-year-old arrives with a meaty, fight-worthy background, Carlyle wanted to emphasize that the organization believes he's capable of much more. “Players get typecast as they can only do one thing,” Carlyle said. “But we think he has more to offer than just his physical presence.”
5. JVR PK
The Leafs have added one surprise recruit to their penalty kill this season in James van Riemsdyk. The 23-year-old was approached about the role by assistant coach Scott Gordon, who asked if he'd ever served in such a capacity before. At the NHL level, the fact was he hadn't. During three seasons in Philadelphia, van Riemsdyk was rarely, if ever, used to kill penalties – about seven minutes total – but had done so at every level leading up to the NHL. He told Gordon as much and has since joined the second complement of penalty killing forwards.
Quote of the Night
“They're big and they can be bad, but that's part of the process that your team has to grow into, you have to be prepared to compete against the big teams in the league and Boston's one of them.”
-Randy Carlyle, on facing the Bruins.
The Leaf power play failed to score in all three opportunities on Saturday, including a golden chance in the final minutes with Tyler Seguin whistled for slashing. Over the past five games, the Toronto man advantage is 2-21.
Stat Watch II
The Leafs attempted 53 shots; 21 hit the net, 22 were blocked and 10 missed entirely.
22:09 – Mikhail Grabovski, a season-high.
Under the Radar
Joined by Nik Kulemin and Jay McClement, Grabovski's unit had the challenge of squaring off against both the Seguin/Brad Marchand/Patrice Bergeron line and the Milan Lucic/David Krejci/Nathan Horton trio. All in all, the line held its own and was probably the Leafs most consistent in terms of generating offence.
Led by the Staal brothers, the Carolina Hurricanes visit the Air Canada Centre on Monday for the first clash between the two teams this season.