LAS VEGAS — A players-only meeting and a team rookie dinner wound up becoming part of the Maple Leafs’ agenda during the past few days in Sin City.
One is an annual tradition that is enjoyed by all, a time to get together and let the hair down; the other was the players-only meeting.
“We talked about what we needed to talk about and it was just an open discussion with the players and get a clear view on what we think needs to happen,” said defenceman Jake Muzzin, acknowledging the meeting was initiated by the team’s leadership group after the losing streak reached five games.
“Whole team. Sometimes when you need to do it, you need to do it. Winning solves everything and you don’t have to have those meetings. When stuff needs to be addressed, it needs to be addressed with the team. And that’s what we did.”
Muzzin, a Stanley Cup winner in 2014 with the Los Angeles Kings, wanted more passion from his teammates. Why has it been missing?
“When you have a lot of skill guys and a team that is skilled, you just rely on the skill sometimes and it takes more than that,” Muzzin said.
ZACH IN A ZONE
Zach Hyman has been feeling like he never missed a shift.
The Leafs would have fewer problems if each played with a similar kind of zest that Hyman brings.
Tuesday night marked Hyman’s fourth game after he recovered from knee surgery, and the winger said he was feeling well physically.
“I was telling Johnny (Tavares, on Tuesday at the morning skate), it has only been six days, but it feels like a month,” Hyman said. “It just feels like I’m back in the swing of things.
“My body is still dealing with soreness, but I didn’t have training camp, I didn’t have a pre-season, so that’s natural. The body feels as good as I thought it would be, which is nice. And the leg feels good.”
As with any player who has missed a significant chunk of time, Hyman has certain areas of focus.
“Something I was already working on (before making his season debut last Wednesday) was getting the pop, and I had pretty good pop in the first couple of games,” Hyman said. “The touch takes a little time. Everything moves faster in a game than in a practice, when it’s all under control. In a game, it’s all random.
“You have to make your touches quick and you have to do it while you’re thinking about something else. I’m trying to get in as many puck battles as I can and not think about the knee. I’m not hesitant to go into corners.”
A day after defenceman Tyson Barrie, who is headed for unrestricted free agency next summer, said his contract situation was weighing on him, coach Mike Babcock said it has been a topic of conversation between the two.
“We have talked about that,” Babcock said. “We have talked to (Barrie) a number of times. What I said to him is ‘You’re a real good player, you play on instincts. That’s what you have always done. Your instincts and your competitiveness have always been better than the guy next to you. When you are thinking about all this other stuff, you have no instincts. Just breathe and play and we got you. Just breathe and play.’
“He is a good kid, he wants to be important on our team, it will turn for him.”
The Colorado Avalanche retained 50% of Barrie’s contract in the trade with the Leafs last summer, so Barrie is costing the Leafs $2.75-million US against the cap. Barrie’s play has underwhelmed to the point that his name has come up in trade speculation, but what’s of immediate concern for the 28-year-old is getting his game in order.
“It’s a new situation for me,” Barrie said. “With the contract stuff, you put a little bit of extra pressure on yourself.
“You don’t really feel it until things start to go so poorly. I’d be lying to you if I said I was not feeling it a bit.”
Forward Pierre Engvall made his National Hockey League debut on Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights. After the morning skate, Babcock made it sound like the Engvall will get a long look.
Babcock wants to eventually use Engvall in a penalty-killing role.
“We’re going to give him another go (on the penalty kill) in practice,” Babcock said. “We talked to him about that, try to get him up to speed in that area and then we will get him on the penalty kill.”
Babcock said Alex Kerfoot was scheduled to join the team on Tuesday and practise with his teammates on Wednesday afternoon in Scottsdale, Ariz. While Babcock didn’t know when Kerfoot, who has missed three games after having surgery for dental fractures, will play again, the fact the centre will be on the ice points to a shorter stay on the sideline.
The same can’t be said for winger Trevor Moore, who has been placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
“Moore, no one has even mentioned his name, so that does not sound (like a return) any time soon,” Babcock said.
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