|Randy Carlyle believes divisional meetings between teams with close geographical ties like the Ottawa Senators should have added meaning. (QMI Agency File)
In a season of firsts for Randy Carlyle next up is his introduction to the Battle of Ontario.
The Leafs coach has far more pressing concerns than rivalries as he looks to right the ship he inherited two weeks ago from Ron Wilson. But Carlyle believes divisional meetings between teams with close geographical ties like the Ottawa Senators should have added meaning.
"The intensity of these rivalries is taken to the fan's level," Carlyle said following the Leafs' morning skate. "It's very visible from that standpoint. I guess it's generated from a number of years. I only viewed it from the outside, but I think it's something the game should embrace.
"It's the way the game is supposed to be played, it's the way the two cities and the two hockey clubs should be prepared to battle against each other."
Thanks to the Sens‚ strong play of late and the recent struggles of the Bruins, the Leafs will meet a team that is suddenly in first place in the Northeast Division, a far cry from where they were on Feb. 4, the previous time these two squads squared off.
On that night, James Reimer was in net for a 5-0 shutout and the Leafs moved to 27-19-6. The Senators, meanwhile had lost for the sixth consecutive time and were in danger of slipping out of playoff contention.
The six weeks in between have dramatically altered life for both teams as the Sens are inching closer to clinching and the Leafs are moving closer to being eliminated.
"That was definitely a low point," Sens centre Kyle Turris said Saturday morning . "We made some adjustments after that."
With their overtime win her Friday night against Montreal, the Sens laid temporary claim, at least, to the top seed in the Eastern Conference, though the Bruins have two games in hand.
"We didn‚t like the way we were headed," forward Nick Foligno of the feeling around the Leafs following that last loss to the Leafs. "I think we see that in the last month and a bit, the product of our hard work is really paying off."
Toronto, meanwhile, is hoping to breathe a little and build off an impressive win against Tampa Bay on Thursday as they play game four of a five-game, nine-day road trip that wraps up Monday night in Boston.
Reimer, who has an impressive 4-1-1 record vs. the provincial rival, will be back in net for the Leafs after a couple of decent performances in Florida earlier in the week.