Leaf Report: Clarkson dedicated to finding a groove

Dave McCarthy, TSN 1050

2/25/2014 5:39:55 PM

TORONTO - As many of his teammates departed for warm, sunny destinations over the Olympic break, David Clarkson decided to spend the majority of his time at home in Toronto, working to get himself in a position to finish what otherwise has been a forgettable season on the right foot.

"Just at home with my daughter dressing up as a princess and bossing me around but I was home with the family, went away quickly, but was mainly just home with my wife and daughter," said Clarkson.

Having already missed 21 of 60 games this season being in and out of the lineup due to two suspensions and two different injuries (foot and elbow), additional time off was the last thing Clarkson felt he needed.

"I think I've had enough of a break this year," he laughed, "but I'm ready to go here to finish this season the right way."

Instead of time off, Clarkson dedicated himself to a workout schedule in an effort to sustain the improvement in his play in the week leading up to the Olympic break.

"Especially with the year, the way it's gone for me, when you go through a tough time, sometimes you've got to dig deep and find a way to get back to work and try to stay healthy."

So far, Clarkson's off-ice work over the break has paid off, at least in the eyes of his head coach.

"He worked out and maintained a high level of conditioning and it's shown here during this mini camp," Randy Carlyle praised, singling Clarkson out after putting his team through another high tempo practice with a heavy emphasis on battle drills designed to ensure the team hits the ground running when they resume their schedule on Thursday night against the New York Islanders.

Reunited with Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul on a line in the second last game before the Olympic break in Tampa Bay, Carlyle was impressed with the trio's performance against the Lightning and the following game against the Vancouver Canucks. The three had played together most recently for a couple of games at the end of November before various injuries and suspensions kept them apart.

"We think the combination of Kadri, Lupul and Clarkson have been a real strong force for us over the last little while and there's no reason to change that," said Carlyle. "We think they should be challenging the Bozak, Kessel and van Riemsdyk lines for minutes, offensive minutes."

Likely more of a challenge than an expectation given the tear that the JVR-Bozak-Kessel unit was on heading into the break, an element of consistent production from that group would be welcomed to take some of the onus off the top line. Clarkson seems to be pleased with the chemistry developing among his linemates so far.

"I think playing with those two, we made a lot of good plays," he said. "We were in the other team's zone, we were doing a lot and I think it was the healthiest I've felt since coming back off the elbow (injury)."

Signing a seven-year, $36.75 million deal to play in his hometown last summer, the expectations were high, probably too high to legitimately expect them to be met. At that price, production is expected in the range of 20 to 30 goals and 55-65 points. But Clarkson is not a player who will consistently reach those targets.

He knows the criticism has been abundant.

"In sports, I think you have to blank some stuff out whether it's what people are saying or what's going on," said Clarkson. "As a player you go through ups and downs and it's how you come out of it and how you handle it. You work hard through those times to get stronger and better."

Finally healthy, a strong performance down the stretch could go a long way in helping to silence some of his critics and erase the disappointment of the first three quarters of the season. It promises to be tough, hard sprint to the finish and it's type of hockey Clarkson wouldn't want any other way.

"This is playoff hockey," he said, "the rest of the season is what it's all about."