Saturday, 3 March 2012

Carlyle Earns His Wins

With the unexpected move that Brian Burke made on Friday night, the Leafs had a new bench boss running the show tonight. Randy Carlyle, formerly of the Anaheim Ducks, was hired to replace the fired Wilson as the Leafs head coach. Having seen Carlyle work behind the bench for many years as the head coach of the Manitoba Moose, I think this coaching change will be good for the Leafs in that Carlyle not expects results, but he demands them and will be relentless in his pursuit of them. He's a Stanley Cup winner with the Ducks, and he brings a determination and demand for defensive responsibility that really define his coaching tactics. In short, he might be exactly what the Leafs need.

His work in both the AHL and IHL with the Manitoba Moose resulted in a career coaching record of 222–159–52–7 with the franchise. While his winning percentage wasn't the greatest, there was a lot of chatter about how difficult the Moose were to play against when Carlyle was running the team. His teams were tenacious on defence, and he liked to push his younger players into greater roles with increasing responsibility in order to prepare them for life as an NHL player.

His success was noticed by the Washington Capitals, and he was asked to step behind the Capitals' bench as an assistant coach in 2002 for his first taste of coaching at the NHL level. Washington lost to Tampa Bay in the 2003 NHL Playoffs in six games. The following season saw Washington unload their high-priced talent - Jaromir Jagr, Peter Bondra, Sergei Gonchar, and Robert Lang - to miss the playoffs with the second-worst record in the NHL. Carlyle decided to step back from the NHL and head back to the Moose for another season of being a head coach.

Carlyle got his crack at running an NHL team on August 1, 2005 when Brian Burke, then of the Anaheim Ducks, called upon him. Burke retooled the Ducks, giving Carlyle some rugged defencemen, some excellentt scoring, and reliable goaltending to work with in the 2005-06 season. Carlyle led the Ducks to the Western Conference Final before being eliminated by Edmonton.

With some additional tinkering done by Burke, Carlyle coached the Ducks to their best finish ever during the regular season. When the dust had settled, the Ducks had won the Pacific Division crown with 110 points, and second-place in the Western Conference. The eliminated the Minnesota Wild in five games in the opening round, and handed the Vancouver Canucks the same fate in the same number of games. The Ducks showed great defence and timely scoring against the highly-touted Detroit Red Wings, and the Ducks advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in six games where they would face the Ottawa Senators.

Randy Carlyle, just two seasons removed from coaching in the AHL, had a chance to win a Stanley Cup - a feat he hadn't even had the chance to accomplish while as a player with the Leafs, Penguins, and Jets during his 17-year career. With Andy McDonald scoring five goals in the series, Randy Carlyle earned his Stanley Cup ring in coaching the Ducks to a five-game Stanley Cup victory over the Senators!

Bringing this full circle, Randy Carlyle earned his 121st victory as head coach of the Ducks, breaking the franchise record for coaching. The man whose record was shattered? None other than Ron Wilson.

Tonight saw Carlyle's Leafs defeat the Montreal Canadiens by a 3-1 score, and the Leafs appeared to be re-committed to playing defence as they held Montreal to just 22 shots and very few scoring chances.

"We're looking for people that are going to stand up and come out and play with a lot of heart, a lot of determination," Carlyle told reporters before the game. "Play the game the way we want you to play it and you will be rewarded."

He rewarded a few players tonight as Mikhail Grabovski had a couple of goals and an assist, and the newly-formed line of David Steckel, Nikolai Kulemin, and Tim Connolly were used to a great extent. That line was especially effective when forechecking and wearing down the Canadiens from what I saw.

With the win tonight, the Leafs snapped a recent 1-9-1 streak, and Carlyle earned his first win as the coach of the storied Maple Leafs. While it will take some time, Carlyle is one step closer to overtaking Wilson's 130 wins as the head coach of the Leafs.

Maybe the playoffs aren't out of the question yet in Toronto.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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