TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the Maple Leafs. The Leafs and Wild held optional skates ahead of tonight's game at Scotiabank Arena.
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock is looking for his offensive stars to be better on the team’s top power-play unit.
After starting 3-for-10 in the first two games, Toronto is just 2-for-12 on the man advantage over the last four games.
"Four guys are battling their butt off. You've got to work hard as five guys," Babcock stressed. "That hasn't been good enough on a consistent basis. We've got a good skill set, we've got a good plan, and now we've got to execute on that plan."
The Leafs generated just four power-play shots while going 0-for-3 on Saturday night in Detroit.
"I don't think we’ve been happy with how we’ve been entering zones," said winger Mitch Marner. "That’s something that we're focusing on a lot now is trying to figure out the easiest way in zone, trying to figure out how to get it set up and get the puck moving."
There's a lack of cohesion right now in the rush up ice.
"Making sure we're coming together," said centre John Tavares of the focus, "so we have our options and our outlets and when you have speed it’s hard to defend."
Although Babcock sees one simple way to get set up in the zone: never leave.
"It doesn't win enough faceoffs," Babcock said of his team's power play. "It's interesting, as a penalty-kill guy you want to win the opening faceoff, get it down and, if you stop their first entry, now they're out of whack and nothing usually happens. The stats show that ¬– we track everything. If you jump on the first faceoff and you stay in the offensive zone, if they happen to get it down and you enter, then everything is good and you feel good about yourself."
Kevin Fiala will sit as a healthy scratch for the Wild tonight.
"I just think we can get more out of him," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau explained. "He's a really skilled player but, for our team, we need more from our skilled players and it's simple as that. We sat Ryan Donato the other day and he came back and I thought performed really well and we're hoping for the same effect on Kevin."
Fiala has just one assist and seven shots in five games.
"Sometimes you just need a jolt," said Boudreau. "I mean, everything's going fine and you’re saying, 'Oh, I'm close,' and this and that, but sometimes you need a real jolt of reality. This game, it’s not just given to you, you got to earn it and Kevin's got to earn it. We count on him for a lot and we haven't gotten as much out of it as we'd like right now."
Gerald Mayhew, who had six points in four AHL games in Iowa this season, draws into the lineup. The 26-year-old is making his NHL debut.
Minnesota is playing its sixth game of the season tonight and its fifth on the road. Any benefit to that?
"Meal money's really good," a deadpan Boudreau said to laughs, "but, no. When you start out 13 of your first 18 on the road it's a tough go. The thing too is they're all playoff teams we're playing so it’s tough. It [could] make you stronger and you look at the positives of that and if we come out of it okay then we'll be setting ourselves up for a good second half."
For the record, eight of the 13 road games are against teams that made the playoffs last season.
The Leafs are playing their fifth game at home this season, but have won just once (1-2-1).
"We haven't looked after home ice like you'd like," said Babcock. "You want to be automatic at home. You want the other team to know it's impossible to win in your building and that hasn't been the case."
The always quotable Boudreau offered his take on a variety of different things as the former Leaf returned to his hometown.
Boudreau's 86-year-old mom will be in the crowd tonight. Does she still have advice for him?
"She's got more guidance than I'd like to share," the coach said with a smile, "I'll tell you that much. She'll be here with the finger (wags finger), watching with the finger tonight."
If things go to plan, Boudreau's mom won't be seeing a lot of offence.
"Every team is built differently, but, I mean, our team, we're not going to win 6-5 games," Boudreau said, "so we better win 2-1 and 3-1 to games and that’s what we hope. I mean, it might be difficult tonight, but that's what we’re planning to do."
"The team we're playing today is going to give up nothing through the neutral zone," said Babcock, "nothing in front of their net. You're going to have to work for everything you get. If you play slow, they're going to frustrate you. They're going to play a good, hard, heavy game and they're going to be hard on our D and hard on our goalie."
Does anyone have as good a one-timer as Alexander Ovechkin?
"No," said the former Capitals coach. "When he hits it right on, the goalie’s saying, 'Hit me or it’s in,' and that's why he's going to challenge Wayne [Gretzky] when it's all over for the most goals ever."
Auston Matthews is trying to develop his one-timer this season.
"Trying to develop one?" said Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk with a smile. "I don't know if that's the right way to put it. I've seen him hit a couple. I think he's developed it."
One new trait Maple Leafs teammates have noticed about Tyson Barrie is the defenceman will often change his handedness to receive passes on his off side.
"I've always kind of done that," Barrie said. "If it's on my backhand I'll switch to lefty. For whatever reason it feels more natural and quicker for me."
Travis Dermott was asking Barrie about this before practice started yesterday.
"It seems easier to handle," Barrie explained, "especially if it’s a hard pass I find it's easier to receive and then you can just pivot around it."
It may look odd, but Barrie says it beats the alternative.
"If you play it off your skates there's always a chance it’s going to bounce off."