NHL

Leafs Report: Lessons to be learned from Canada's triumph

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Dave McCarthy, TSN 1050
2/24/2014 4:57:29 PM
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As Randy Carlyle watched Team Canada clinch their second consecutive Olympic gold medal early Sunday morning, it was the way in which they went about achieving success - a complete defensive domination surrendering just three goals against in six games - which piqued his interest most.

"I looked at it and I hope our players understand that defense does win, that's the simplest statement you can make," said the Toronto Maple Leafs head coach on Monday.

If there is a goal for the Leafs over their remaining 22 games, it should be to clamp down defensively. Throughout the season, they have routinely been outshot, allowing 40 or more shots on 16 different occasions, and a league high 2175, 146 more than the next highest team, the Ottawa Senators.

Of their 32 wins, the Maple Leafs lead the NHL with 25 wins in games that they have been outshot. A large part of their success has come from excellent goaltending and their ability to outscore their defensive issues, sitting behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins for the most goals scored in the Eastern Conference. But come playoff time, it is often the best defensive teams that emerge victorious.

"We know that we can score goals as a team so if we can tighten up a little bit our defence, we feel we're going to be a tough team to beat," said Jonathan Bernier, who has faced the third-most shots in the NHL this season.

"I think that you've seen that over a long time, not just in that tournament, that good defensive teams have success," added captain Dion Phaneuf. "When you play good defence, it means you have the puck more and that generates more offence. That's a fair statement when you say 'defence wins,' it's been like that for a long time."

Team Canada's defence was made effective, primarily by the cohesion featured among the five players on the ice at any given time, and the relentless nature in which forwards back checked.

While that system was executed by some of the finest players in the game, strong defensive skills are not like offensive talent. When it comes to scoring goals, some players simply have more of a knack at it than others but, as Dave Bolland explained, there should be no excuse for poor defensive play.

"Defence is about commitment," he said. "I know coming into the NHL, my defensive skills were terrible, and I admit that. But I learned that defence wins you games. I sort of took a hold of that and set it up as my third-line role."

Bolland's impending return (he, like last week, remained coy today about the potential of dressing against the New York Islanders this Thursday) should help lead the way in terms of defensive commitment. In 15 games before going down with the severed tendon in his left ankle, Bolland showed himself to be among the Leafs' top defensive forwards.

"I learned a lot about back checking when I got into the league," said Bolland. "When I was in juniors, you didn't even think about coming back. Once I got up to the NHL, you learn backchecking is crucial. The first guy I learned that from was Marian Hossa. You see that guy backcheck, he corrupts [sic] a lot of puck and he corrupts [sic] a lot of sticks, he's always back in the right spots."

For an example of the style of play he hopes his players can work toward, Carlyle looked no further than the gold medal game itself.

"In that game, it was played at a very high pace, but defence, probably on both hockey clubs, was very evident in the way they approached it and how they tried to set up their defensive schemes," he explained. "On the big ice surface, it doesn't look as

Leafs bench (Photo: Steve Russell/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Steve Russell/Getty Images)
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