The Toronto Maple Leafs targeted their struggling power play Saturday morning as they prepared for a game tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“We have to be better,” Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said at the morning skate.
“A lot of the time, it (power play) can be the difference in the game, and last night, we didn’t take advantage of it.”
Rielly was speaking about the Leafs 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit Friday in their first game back from an eight day layoff at the all-star break. Toronto’s power play failed to score in five opportunities against the Red Wings.
“We talked about that today (Saturday),” Rielly said.
“You look at the video, you make it clear that it’s not good enough, and you will never let it happen again. Then you move onto Pittsburgh and look at what they do, and go from there.”
Pittsburgh won in Ottawa Friday night, with Sidney Crosby’s line registering 16 shots on goal. The Penguins also completed a four player deal with Florida, sending Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan to the Panthers for Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann.
Leafs coach Mike Babcock noted Crosby’s line and its performance Friday night. Babcock said he will start backup Garrett Sparks in goal Saturday night, and will consider other lineup changes, or line and defensive pair changes, throughout the day Saturday.
Rielly completed his first game with new defensive partner Jake Muzzin Friday, and the reviews were solid.
For all the talk of Rielly shifting to the right side — he’s a natural left side defenceman — there was little problem with the shift.
“We talked a lot about that,” Rielly said of Muzzin, who was acquired earlier in the week in a trade with the Kings.
“We said lets not get into a panic situation if we are on the off side … Jake played there too and he’s a very good player. Once the game gets going, you are on both sides anyways. We just said to each other that we shouldn’t panic when it happens. Jake’s a great player and its great when we can add a player like that to our team.”
Babcock, looking to spark his power play Friday night, moved William Nylander up to the first unit power play, while moving Nazem Kadri back to the second unit.
Babcock said, in hind sight, that he might have waited until practice to try the switch.
“It didn’t work out,” Babcock said, adding that he’s thinking of ways to improve the power play all the time.
“Oh yeah … we’ve considered lots of things, so just think, if you (media) are thinking about it, just think how much I’m thinking about it.”
In the meantime, Rielly was looking forward to a Saturday night meeting with former Leafs defenceman Ian Turnbull, who holds the Leafs single season points record for a defenceman, with 22 goals and 79 points in the 1976-77 season (including a five goal game).
Rielly enters Saturday’s game with 51 points in 50 games; Turnbull will be honoured Saturday night with the JP Bickell Award, a recognition for performance which hasn’t been handed to a Leafs player-coach since 2003 (Pat Quinn).
The former blueliner had high praise for Rielly this week, and felt Rielly was all but a shoe-in to set a new Leafs record for defenceman points.
The award is named after Bickell, who was the franchise’s first president.
“Oh, I think he’s (Turnbull) being kind,” Rielly said. “He was a great offensive defenceman … I have a long way to go to be where he was.”
The Leafs have placed defenceman Martin Marincin on waivers.