TORONTO - It's not panic, it's reality.
That was the message Leafs coach Randy Carlyle delivered to his team in the wake of some of their worst hockey this season; a nine-period slide which has seen them drop two of three in tilted fashion, winning once on very good fortune, outshot by a distressing and revealing 107-64 margin.
"We tried to deliver the message that this isn't a panic situation, this is a situation that's easily correctable if we do some things that we've done before," Carlyle explained. "That's really what we're asking. We're not asking them to step out and do something they're not capable of doing or they haven't done for this hockey club before."
Carlyle struck not a sharp nor bitter tone with his group at a Friday practice in Toronto, but one of constructive critique, illustrating the means and requirements toward righting the cause of the organization's first potential playoff berth in nine years.
"We tried to show that there's some things that are unacceptable in what we were doing and there's some things that when we do them well the examples are there also, so it's not all negative," said Carlyle before his team departed to Ottawa, ahead of a Saturday battle with the hot-charging Senators.
Thumped badly for a second straight night in a 5-3 loss to the Islanders on Thursday, the focus Friday began with a long session of video - "how we had to play and things that needed to be corrected" - followed by an hour-long practice bursting with a blend of direction, encouragement and constructive criticism.
"This has been our biggest hiccup we feel," Mark Fraser said in conversation with TSN.ca. "And it's nothing at all that teams are doing against us, it's something that we're totally in control of."
Friday's session then proved a refresher course of sorts.
There was the need to delete a rising tide of opposition goals from the most dangerous of areas in and around the net, the Capitals and Islanders thriving in that capacity in most recent one-sided losses. There were the "awful, awful turnovers" as labeled by Joffrey Lupul on Thursday, snuffing out any hints of firepower and any time spent in the offensive zone, minimal chances to score the proof of such trouble. And there was a definite need to stem the speed of opposing attacks, closing holes in a gaping neutral zone while returning to their own brand of downhill hockey with unrelenting pressure and brusque physical play.
In one very hands-on drill, Carlyle outlined in step-by-step detail the responsibilities and requirements of individuals on an even-strength faceoff, be it for the side defending (on either win or loss) or the opposing group on attack.
"It was not just re-establishing [the system], but revisiting some of the things that made us successful and obviously trying to correct some of the things that we've been doing poorly," said Fraser, who noted that Carlyle's method was "probably more consistent to what Randy's approach has always been this year," more even-handed than painstakingly critical, a taming of the increasing pressure rather than a flaming of it.
"When you can focus on only the negative and harp on it and criticize and beat guys down that just tightens up the mood more often than not," Fraser noted. "There's no reason why we should be happy with our performance the last few games, but there's zero reason why we should be attacking one another and critical. There's a point where you just have to take a step back, realize what you did poorly, but also on the flip side realize what we did so well to have that success [before]."
Not panic, but reality.
Hanging onto the fifth seed in the East with four games to go - only a point up on the Senators - the Leafs playoff chances remain in very good standing. Still, an immediate reversal in recent tidings is demanded, the prospect of limping into a long-awaited postseason berth far from ideal, a three-game road trip on deck, beginning in the nation's capital on Saturday.
As he does at the end of every on-ice session, including Friday, Carlyle gathered his group along the boards and delivered his message for what lies ahead.
"It's not panic, it's reality," he concluded afterward. "We know we can play to a higher level than we've played in I would say the last nine periods of hockey. We've just got to get back to that. The message that we delivered is 'This is how we do it'."