The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking for better performances all around after a disastrous week that saw their chances of gaining home-ice advantage dwindle, as they begin a two-game back-to-back road trip against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday.
The Leafs hope to tighten up defensively and get a better performance from goalie Frederik Andersen, as the club allowed 23 goals in four games against Tampa Bay, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Ottawa and saw their potential Vezina candidate get pulled twice and give up six goals in the club’s only win.
“This is nothing. I’ve been around for much darker days,” Nazem Kadri said regarding keeping last week in perspective. “We are lucky to have the group that we have, and the players that we have and we all stick together no matter what.”
The Leafs get back winger Kasperi Kapanen after missing four games with concussion issues, who will slot in on the right side with Kadri and veteran Patrick Marleau.
“There’s a back-to-play protocol, I think that’s real important, especially with anything (to do)with the head.” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said on Tuesday. “(Kapanen) probably could have gone two games ago, but I think it’s important that we handle the situations in the right way.”
Nic Petan skated with Trevor Moore and Connor Brown on the fourth line in place of the injured Frederik Gauthier, who did not travel with the team due to a foot injury suffered in Ottawa last Saturday and Leafs Nation Network’s Paul Hendrick reported that Justin Holl will play in his third straight game in spite of going -4 against the Sens.
Toronto’s recent struggles can be attributed in part to the injuries to key players Kapanen, Travis Dermott, and Jake Gardiner, but the Leafs head coach expressed his unhappiness about the options available to him with just three weeks to go before the start of the playoffs.
“The thing about a team is you’ve got 23 spots on it and you’ve got a minor league team and you’re supposed to build the best program you can to have as much depth as you can, so you don’t miss people,” Babcock said on Tuesday. “If you have enough, you don’t miss a beat and you keep on going. There are other teams that have done a better job when different players are out than we have keeping on going. That just tells you what state you’re at, and you have to just keep adding better players.”
This could be interpreted as a rallying cry to depth players like Holl, Marincin, Petan, and Moore to step up their effort, but many have also taken this statement as a criticism of GM Kyle Dubas. Dubas did not follow the same path that Lou Lamoriello did the last two years, addressing a need Babcock was asking for, like Brian Boyle two years ago or Tomas Plekanec before the last deadline.
Babcock was clearly looking for either some sandpaper up front or depth on defense before February 25 and Dubas instead added a small skill player in Petan.
We will have to wait until the end of the season to see if the blame game continues between the veteran head coach and the Leafs young GM, or who will get the credit if the club has some success in the post-season.
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