With the off-season and the pre-season now in the books, the pain promised by Toronto’s front office to all Leafs fans is just around the corner.
But there seems to be more positivity in the locker room than first indicated.
“I like the progress of our team, I like our attitude, I like how hard these guys work,” said head coach Mike Babcock, after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. “I’m not going to pretend like everything is rosy, that is not the case, but I like what we are doing.”
After a shaky start to the preseason, the Maple Leafs were finally able to have some quality ice time, dominating puck possession, albeit against an AHL-level lineup.
“We weren’t careless with the puck,” said Babcok, after the second loss in two nights to his former club. “I thought we looked like a hockey team so I thought today was a real positive day.”
Outshooting the Red Wings 29-15, the style and attitude that Babcock is trying to implement is finally showing some signs of life.
“We have to get used to doing it right,” he said of his team’s performance in exhibition. “It has to be what you do every day, you come to the rink and you do it right.
“If you do it right all the time you are going to have the odd night where you play better than the other team and you don’t win, but when you do it right you feel good about yourself and normally you get the points.”
The change in coaching style from last year’s disastrous campaign is something the players are still getting used to.
“He was detailed, everything was fast paced on the ice,” said James Van Riemsdyk, about his preseason experience under Babcock. “I really like how we do that now, it gets us ready for the game.
“You are always go, go, go and when it comes to game time you play it like you practice, so it’s good.”
The likely starting goaltender for the Maple Leafs also noticed a change in his team’s attitude, especially during practice. Following Saturday’s dominant performance from a possession standpoint, Babcock’s approach to practice can translate very well once the puck is dropped on Oct. 7.
“He is a hard working guy,” said Jonathan Bernier, about his coach. “It showed tonight, and he is going to do everything to get this team to play the best it can.”
Toronto’s final game of the preseason against Detroit captured the essence of exhibition hockey.
For a Red Wings team poised to make the playoffs for a 25th consecutive season the game was almost insignificant. With the exception of Daniel Cleary, Kyle Quincey and Petr Mrazek the Red Wings lineup returned to Grand Rapids after the game.
But that didn’t stop some of the players on the ice from trying to solidify a position on the roster.
Defencemen Scott Harrington and Matt Hunwick are two of the Maple Leafs that looked to make a positive impression on coach Mike Babcock. Both of them led the team in ice time after the first period.
“They both (Jake Gardener and Morgan Riley) can’t be down behind the opponent’s net all the time,” said Babcock about his defence. “If one is down there I don’t mind, and that’s where guys like Hunwick and Harrington really help on the defensive end.”
But what about the pain? With the regular season less than a week away, surely the Maple Leafs struggles that surfaced in the preseason will not simply disappear.
“I’m a big believer in process and you make each day matter. You come in and you just do it right, and over a period of time you look like a team, you act like a team, you play like a team and you win games and everything else takes care of itself.”
“We will just keep focusing on the process no matter how long it will take.”