The Leafs have finally ended their losing streak, and it happened in new coach Randy Carlyle’s first game. Coincidence or not, the Leafs needed the win badly if they had any hope of making the playoffs this season.
The game started at a torrid pace – a mix of speed and physicality, and a dash of oddity – and saw the Habs strike first, on a tap in by Montreal’s Erik Cole. At this point, the Leafs were in a bit of disarray as Jonas Gustavsson had stumbled a few times outside of his crease.
Still, the Leafs were able to stay the course, and escaped the period down only one. During the first, you could see the Leafs were fired up, and an emphasis was definitely placed on the physical game. Every player was finishing his checks, and it culminated in a Mike Brown – Brad Staubitz tilt (Brown left the game at this point, unknown at this point what his status is).
Prior to the game, everyone who commented on the hiring said that Carlyle is a big line-matcher. Tonight was solid proof of the matter, as Carlyle used essentially three lines with regularity. Carlyle’s favourite line tonight was the Matt Frattin – Mikhail Grabovski – Clarke MacArthur line. He began allotting them the majority of icetime in the first period, and it paid dividends by the game’s end.
Frattin would score the tying goal in the second period, and the line would strike twice more when Grabovski put the Leafs up by two late in the third.
I made a tweet comment after Frattin’s first hit of the game that he would become a Carlyle favourite and I believe I may be on to something here. I highly doubt Frattin returns to the AHL any time soon (or until the Leafs are mathematically eliminated).
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A few notes on Carlyle’s coach style:
- Did not respond to Montreal’s goal by staying stationary and yelling “Let’s go”.
- Was teaching the entire game, showing players what to do between whistles/TV timeouts.
- Constantly vocal on the bench, pacing up and down.
- Line matching. Hardly used his fourth line, unlike Wilson.
- Called the Tim Connolly – David Steckel – Nikolai Kulemin line ‘safe’ with their ability to play ‘safe minutes’. Is this the advent of a true checking line? Maybe. Connolly really isn’t cut for it though.
- Notably did not throw goaltending under the bus (OK, that one wasn’t really fair)
- Apparently spoke to players after the game, something Wilson never did.
It’s far too early to be proclaiming success already, but I’ll say this: the Leafs looked fresh tonight, and it seemed as if a different team was playing. I could be blind, or just delusional from the novelty of Carlyle, but it certainly looks better – for now.