PHILADELPHIA – Gathering at the Class of 1923 Arena on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania on Sunday, Randy Carlyle and the Toronto Maple Leafs rehashed the ills of the previous night. The remnants of an empty last minute loss in Ottawa were discussed, debated and dissected before attention shifted quickly ahead toward a Monday showdown with the Flyers.
"It's like a scar gets left," Carlyle said metaphorically on Sunday, "and we want to remove that scar."
The Leafs have been prone to the odd 'scar' before, and in each instance, Carlyle has asked his group to 'reset', to which they've responded definitively with a win. Creeping into their performance on nights such as Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Senators is a curious wandering outside the bounds of the game-plan.
Then, perhaps shocked by the sting of the result, they quickly revert back to their set upon defensive structure, as they did following flat-line results against Carolina (twice) and Tampa earlier this month. "Randy talks about managing success after we get a win or two or three or whatever," resident coach Jay McClement explained in conversation with TSN.ca. "We seem to be slow learners as far as that [goes].
"I don't know why we have to keep proving it to ourselves that that's how we have success. When we get away from it we don't have success. And then when we have a game like [Saturday], I feel like we learn from it and we go out the next game and we get back to our game and we seem to have success with it."
Carlyle deserves a great deal of credit for the early success in Toronto (11-8-0). He has persuaded his group to buy into a defensive system – the Leafs are currently eighth best in terms of goals against – imposing it as the means for victory. Any evidence he needs for why it works presents itself in a string of February success (seven wins in 10 games before the loss in Ottawa). "They've proven it to us, we've proven it to ourselves that when we do that we have success," McClement said. "You're not going to win every night, but if we play the right way, the way they want us to play and the way we've played for a good part of the year then we prove to each other that that's what we need to do to have success."
The ability to bounce back after poor results – they reeled off four straight after their first loss to the Hurricanes, won a pair after their second loss to those same 'Canes and then got by the Sabres after an uninspired performance in Tampa – is a credit, Carlyle says, to "the mindset of your group. "
"We've talked and talked and talked and talked and we've had lots of analyzing time on how we wanted to handle our group right from the end of last year through the summer months. We're not changing; we've got a template created, we're going to hold one other accountable, we're going to make decisions based upon what we think is going to give us the best chance for success. And we've stated that and that's what we did again [Sunday]. We talked about the deficiencies in [Saturday's] game and some of the things we could've done better, the coaching staff included."
Carlyle conceded error himself in the lead-up to the Senators' game-winning goal, which took place in the final minute of regulation. "I've got to bear responsibility. I should've called a timeout with  seconds left for the faceoff," he said, noting an ability to set the game-plan on the defensive zone draw, take a breather or change personnel, perhaps to include Dion Phaneuf or top faceoff man Tyler Bozak, both of whom remained off the ice for Colin Greening's game-winner.
The 'deficiencies' Carlyle speaks of are relatively short in number, but obvious in their effect for stalling the 'grind-it-out' attack. "We have to be a physical team," McClement explained. "That's probably step one is getting physically involved, finishing all our checks. From that, getting our forecheck going; everything kind of revolves on that. And then, just not turning the puck over, giving things away to the other team … We knew [the Senators] were a rush team that feeds on turnovers. We played right into that, turned the puck over."
"And that's what we did," Carlyle concurred, dead-set against high-risk, high-reward hockey. "We tightened it up in the last half of the game and it showed in our scoring chances against."
"We have to learn how to do that every single night," McClement continued. "I think that's what he's talking about, managing our success. We seem to be able to bounce back. It seems like lesson learned."