Carlyle Making Early Difference

By HOWARD BERGER

BOSTON (Mar. 19) – Unless he raises the Stanley Cup for a second time, it is inevitable that Randy Carlyle will be fired by the Maple Leafs at some point in the future, making room for the 29th coach in franchise history. That is, after all, the nature of Carlyle’s profession and the fruitless pattern in Toronto since Punch Imlach took the fall in April 1969.

But, what about that initial caveat? A championship club in the NHL must be, above all, defensively-sound, with steady, reliable goaltending. Carlyle fashioned exactly that caliber of team in Anaheim five springs ago and he shared the ultimate glory with his current boss in Toronto, Brian Burke. His players had a wee-bit to do with it, mind you – I’ll take future Hall-of-Famers Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Teemu Selanne and (perhaps) Corey Perry on my side any day – but the coach laid out a system and plan that appropriated his talent.

There will be no-such celebration in Toronto until Burke upgrades the current roster, but Carlyle has begun the process of directing what is needed from whichever players are on the ice. And, he’s done a more-than adequate job in less than two weeks behind the bench. Any frequent observer of the Blue and White can notice how the team has settled down under its new coach. This doesn’t imply that Ron Wilson couldn’t stress a defensive strategy – it was his calling before he arrived in Toronto – but his shelf-life underwent a rapid decline in the month of February. He could have promised the Leafs a private, day-long visit to the Playboy Mansion and they wouldn’t have followed his lead. That’s what happens in the coaching fraternity – even to those in the “all-time” category with more than 600 wins.

Carlyle has taken the 200-by-85-foot rink and broken it down into little segments. In so doing, the players have gone back to what they may have learned in their first experience with organized hockey: correct positioning. “There’s no guessing out there with Randy,” Luke Schenn told me after the Leafs morning skate today at TD Garden. “We have certain responsibilities in all three zones of the ice and Randy really stresses that aspect of the game. It may be a bit more complicated than a run-and-gun style but it also simplifies what every player has to do. We work on it in practice and  I think it is starting to show results.”

RANDY CARLYLE DIRECTING THE LEAFS MORNING SKATE TODAY AT TD GARDEN.

Perhaps observing what ultimately took down Wilson in Toronto, Carlyle has chosen to put his players at the forefront of any constructive chatter. He was unduly modest this morning when I suggested to him how gratifying it must be to notice the swift bend toward discipline on his watch. “It isn’t about me, it’s about the players and their willingness to perform on the ice,” he quickly retorted. “Yes, we’re playing a better style of defensive hockey but the coaches can’t go out there and execute the plan. It is – and always has been – about the players.”

If anything, Carlyle’s penchant to evade the spotlight will be appreciated by the Maple Leafs, who weren’t drawing rave notices from Wilson toward the end. Again, that was as much a matter of timing as an inability to communicate or understand the importance of protecting players during media sessions. Nothing Wilson said to reporters about his careening club was inaccurate, but he lost any hope of maintaining trust and belief in his message. Carlyle, I’m told, had much the same difficulty in Anaheim before he was fired late last November – “the players hated him at the end,” said a prominent member of the southern-California media when we chatted last week – but his approach in Toronto has been rather soothing.

That’s what often happens when a coach – and his players – are offered a second chance.

LEAFS TELEVISION ANALYST GREG MILLEN LISTENS RATHER INTENTLY TO A RANDY CARLYLE STORY OUTSIDE THE VISITING COACH’S DRESSING ROOM TODAY AT TD GARDEN.

It is absolutely spectacular day here in Boston, with clear skies and temperature in the low-80s. I trust you’ll enjoy my photo-images from the Leafs morning skate at the Garden:

HOME OF THE BOSTON BRUINS AND CELTICS SINCE THE START OF THE 1996-97 SEASON (ABOVE AND BELOW) AT 100 LEGENDS WAY HERE IN BEANTOWN.

VIEW (ABOVE) FROM THE ZAMBONI ENTRANCE AT TD GARDEN AND THE BLACK-AND-GOLD COLOR SCHEME OF THE 17,565 SEATS IN THE ARENA (BELOW).

LEAF PLAYERS TAKE TO THE GARDEN ICE (ABOVE) JUST AFTER 11:30 THIS MORNING – PHOTO SNAPPED WHILE I WAS STANDING AT THE BRUINS BENCH.

HISTORY OF BRUINS AND CELTICS IS PROMINENTLY DISPLAYED AT TD GARDEN (ABOVE).

BANNERS (ABOVE) COMMEMORATING THE THREE-MOST RECENT BRUIN CHAMPIONSHIPS.

BRUIN PLAYERS THAT HAVE HAD THEIR JERSEY NUMBERS RETIRED ARE INSTANTLY RECOGNIZABLE (ABOVE AND BELOW) TO HOCKEY FANS OF ALL AGES.

     

END-ZONE PANORAMA OF THE TD GARDEN (ABOVE).

THE CELTICS CHAMPIONSHIP REIGN IN THE NBA OF THE ’60s AND ’70s IS DULY NOTED.

AFTER RECORDING LEAFS FIRST BACK-TO-BACK WINS IN NEARLY SIX WEEKS, JAMES REIMER (IN MORNING SKATE, ABOVE AND BELOW) STARTS IN GOAL AGAINST THE BRUINS.

     

PRACTICE HUDDLES HAVE BEEN A STAPLE OF CARLYLE’S EARLY STRATEGY.

LEAFS GOALTENDING COACH FRANCOIS ALLAIRE CHATS WITH BEARDED ASSISTANT DAVE FARRISH (ABOVE-LEFT) MOMENTS AFTER CARLYLE ADDRESSED THE ENTIRE TEAM (RIGHT).

FANS OF BOTH CLUBS WATCHED THE SKATE TODAY (ABOVE).

CARLYLE KEPT THE POSITIVE FOCUS HIS PLAYERS THIS MORNING.

PARKING LOT ON SOUTHEAST SIDE OF ARENA (ABOVE) IS SITE OF THE OLD BOSTON GARDEN, WHICH STOOD A MERE NINE INCHES FROM THE NEW FACILITY WHEN IT WAS CAREFULLY IMPLODED IN 1996.

     

ON MAY 9, 2010 – ONE DAY BEFORE THE 40th ANNIVERSARY OF HIS LEGENDARY, CUP-WINNING GOAL – THE GREAT BOBBY ORR WAS ON HAND TO HELP UNVEIL “THE GOAL” (ABOVE AND BELOW), A STATUE OUTSIDE TD GARDEN THAT DEPICTS HIS FLIGHT THROUGH THE BOSTON GARDEN AIR AFTER RE-DIRECTING DEREK SANDERSON’S FEED FROM THE CORNER PAST ST. LOUIS BLUES GOALIE GLENN HALL AT 40 SECONDS OF OVERTIME. BOSTON SWEPT ST. LOUIS IN 1970 TO WIN ITS FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP IN 31 YEARS. 

MY HOTEL HERE IN BOSTON (ABOVE AND BELOW) RESEMBLES THE HISTORIC GOODERHAM [FLAT-IRON] BUILDING IN THE ST. LAWRENCE NEIGHBOURHOOD OF DOWNTOWN TORONTO, COMPLETED IN 1892. LEAFS AND BRUINS AT 7 O’CLOCK TONIGHT.

     

Email: howardlberger@gmail.com

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