'We are trying to earn the respect back for our hockey club': Leafs coach Randy Carlyle

Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. (QMI Agency)

Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. (QMI Agency)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:14 PM ET

TORONTO - Playoffs?

The Maple Leafs are thinking about that clear possibility, but at the same time, are not looking that far ahead.

“We are going into an area where we are trying to earn the respect back for our hockey club,” coach Randy Carlyle said after practice at the MasterCard Centre on Tuesday.

“When you come to playoffs, it is a whole different season, but we are not even there yet. We have nine games to make sure we are playing to the top of our level, and we as a coaching staff are always questioning how much better could we be if we could get everyone going.

“We want to get our players to understand that we have not played as good as we can as a team. There is more for this group to give. More is going to be needed to have success.”

The Leafs beat the New York Rangers on Monday night and headed to Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon with the thought of doing it again on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

Toronto is in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 48 points, and with New Jersey in ninth with 40 points, only a monumental collapse would see the Leafs’ playoff drought extend another year. As most with just a passing interest in the NHL realize, the Leafs have not been to the post-season since 2004 and were the only organization between lockouts to miss the playoffs every year.

“Stranger things have happened in this league,” centre Tyler Bozak said.

“We are in the playoffs right now, and it’s nice to be in the hunt. But I know everyone’s main focus is making the playoffs and finishing out the year strong.”

Joffrey Lupul did not skate on Tuesday as he recovers from an upper-body injury and will not play in New York. But he is expected on the ice on Wednesday, whether it is in the morning with his teammates or in Toronto.

“He is still listed as day to day,” Carlyle said. “We just felt it was best to stay off the ice today. He had an off-ice workout and treatment.”

Carlyle’s top line of Bozak between James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel was intact, but there were some other intriguing combinations.

Mikhail Grabovski centred Ryan Hamilton and Matt Frattin, while Jay McClement was between Leo Komarov and Nikolai Kulemin.

What caught the attention of observers was that Nazem Kadri was one of five players in a green sweater, the colour usually worn by the fourth line. Also in green were Clarke MacArthur, Joe Colborne, Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren.

“We’re just putting some things together,” Carlyle said. “I would not read anything into the green sweater and the group he skated with today.”

Rick Nash scored two goals against the Leafs on Monday in Toronto’s 4-3 win and Carlyle expects the big power forward to be a handful again. But there ways to get in Nash’s grill, Carlyle figured.

“He made two big moves (on his goals),” Carlyle said. “He made one on (Cody) Franson and he made one on (Mark) Fraser.

“The whole thing is that we have to be closer to him. There should not be so much space between him and the defending player. Limit his time and space. You know he is a big guy. Play the body as much as possible and keep the feet moving.”

 


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