By HOWARD BERGER
WASHINGTON (Mar. 12) – Ron Wilson wouldn’t be the type to enjoy the blundering of his former team, would he? Who among us could possibly imagine ol’ Ronny cashing the bi-weekly portion of his $2-million severance cheque from the Leafs and then blissfully swaying on a hammock between trees near his golf-resort condominium in Hilton Head Island? Naaahh!! Wilson was probably in the throes of near-depression while watching on the NHL’s Center Ice TV package Sunday evening as the Blue and White shot blanks once again here in Washington. The sorrow he felt upon losing his job a week ago Friday has been surpassed only by the heart-ache of the Leafs 1-3-1 record under his successor, Randy Carlyle.
Pardon me while I straighten out my tongue.
Brian Burke is in Boca Raton, Fla. to attend the NHL general managers’ meeting this week, comfortably aware that only a couple of minor issues have gone sour with the Leafs: his coaches and players. Otherwise, all is in working order. Where does this man turn – and what, prey-tell, does he do – in the fast-approaching summer? Just more than a week removed from telling reporters – in Montreal – he was completely at a loss to understand why his playoff-bound club became a run-away 18-wheeler in the Grand Canyon, Burke has to put Humpty Dumpty together again before next season. He might have an easier time convincing Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to spend a leisurely week together with their families.
This, of course, isn’t to throw in the towel on the Carlyle regime. He could fix oil prices before curing what ails the outfit he took command of ten nights ago. The mere fact the Leafs have suffered a hockey version of cardiac-arrest most certainly complicates the task of restoring a pulse to the long-suffering franchise. If Burke had tinkered with a handful of players he inherited from Cliff Fletcher nearly 3 1/2 years ago, the GM might say to himself “Alright, Brian, enough screwing around. It’s time to gut this factory and renovate.” Given, however, that he’s responsible for 21 components of the club’s 23-man roster [Luke Schenn and Nikolai Kulemin the lone exceptions], it’s anyone’s guess as to whether he’ll fix the team with polish or dynamite.
Weekend shut-out losses to the Flyers and Capitals dropped the Leafs to a grisly 2-12-2 in 16 games since Feb. 6. The club actually assumed a bit of defensive posture in the consecutive-night encounters but it couldn’t fire a puck into the ocean from the Atlantic City boardwalk. The alternatives, therefore, aren’t particularly inviting: play run-and-gun hockey and fall behind 2-0 in the first 90 seconds of each game… or clamp down in the neutral zone and hope that you can win 82 shoot-outs.
Such is the dilemma facing Burke in the weeks and months before the 2012-13 season.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS REJOICE AT THE VERIZON CENTER (ABOVE) AFTER HANDING THE MAPLE LEAFS THEIR 14th LOSS IN THE PAST 16 GAMES.
Carlyle is said to enjoy a challenge. But, even he seems at a loss – already – to comprehend the latest disaster in Leaf Land. Things are so lousy right now that the inability to score in consecutive-night games is seen as progress, simply because the club didn’t yield its customary four or five goals. Perhaps Carlyle should check with his family one more time about that decision to leave southern California.
RANDY CARLYLE IS STARTING TO GET THE GLAZED-OVER, “WHAT HAVE I DONE?!” LOOK AFTER ONLY FIVE GAMES BEHIND THE BENCH OF THE 2011-12 MAPLE LEAFS.
My photo-review, now, of traveling here to Washington Sunday morning… and the Leafs-Capitals late-afternoon encounter at the Verizon Center:
IT WAS A BRISK LATE-MORNING AT PEARSON AIRPORT ON SUNDAY, BUT CRYSTAL-CLEAR SKIES MADE FOR A SPECTACULAR CLIMB-OUT OVER DOWNTOWN TORONTO AND LAKE ONTARIO (ABOVE AND BELOW).
FIFTEEN MINUTES BEFORE LANDING IN WASHINGTON, WE FLEW PAST DOWNTOWN BALTIMORE (ABOVE), WITH A NEAT VIEW OF ORIOLE PARK AT CAMDEN YARDS AND M&T BANK STADIUM, HOME OF THE NFL’s BALTIMORE RAVENS.
FINAL APPROACH TO RONALD REAGAN AIRPORT TOOK US PAST THE NATIONAL MALL (ABOVE), SPANNING THE DISTANCE BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES CAPITOL AND THE WASHINGTON MONUMENT. THE WHITE, WAVY STRUCTURE AT TOP OF THE LEFT-HAND PHOTO IS RFK STADIUM, FORMER HOME OF THE NFL’s WASHINGTON REDSKINS.
STATUE OF THE GIPPER (ABOVE AND BELOW), WHICH STANDS AT THE ENTRANCE TO NATIONAL AIRPORT.
THE CAB-RIDE INTO D.C. FOUND JOGGERS ENJOYING A BEAUTIFUL, PRE-SPRING DAY ALONG THE BANKS OF THE POTOMAC RIVER (ABOVE-LEFT).
FANS OF BOTH TEAMS MADE THEIR WAY TOWARD THE VERIZON CENTER FOR THE 5 P.M. GAME (ABOVE); THE ARENA FILLING UP WITH SAID INDIVIDUALS (BELOW) DURING THE PRE-GAME WARM-UP.
ICE-PROJECTION (ABOVE) DURING THE CANADIAN AND U.S. NATIONAL ANTHEMS.
“HEY REF, DOWN HERE!” THAT’S WHAT CAPITALS’ CENTRE MATHIEU PERREAULT APPEARS TO BE YELLING (ABOVE) AT A MOMENTARILY-DISTRACTED DENNIS LaRUE, WHO HANDLED BOTH LEAF GAMES ON THE WEEKEND.
LaRUE GIVES A “WHAD’YA WANT ME TO DO?” TO RANDY CARLYLE AFTER THE LEAFS WERE CALLED FOR TOO MANY MEN ON THE ICE AT 2:32 OF THE OPENING PERIOD.
CAPITALS FORWARD TROY BROUWER (20, ABOVE-LEFT) APPEARED TO LOSE A LEG DURING THE EARLY POWERPLAY, WHICH THE LEAFS KILLED. BUT, WASHINGTON SCORED SHORT-HANDED MIDWAY THROUGH THE PERIOD WHEN DEFENSEMAN JAKE GARDINER TURNED OVER THE PUCK IN THE NEUTRAL ZONE TO BROOKS LAICH, WHO SPED DOWN THE RIGHT-WING AND FOOLED JONAS GUSTAVSSON WITH A STOP-ABLE SHOT TO THE GLOVE-SIDE. GUSTAVSSON WENT FOR THE REFRESHMENTS (BELOW) SECONDS AFTER THE PUCK ELUDED HIM.
THE LEAFS GOT TO WITHIN SHOUTING DISTANCE OF MICHAL NEUVIRTH A FEW TIMES ON SUNDAY (ABOVE AND BELOW), BUT GENERATED FEW CLEAR SCORING OPPORTUNITIES.
TORONTO’S PALTRY ATTACK IS REFLECTED ON THE VERIZON CENTER SCOREBOARD LATE IN THE OPENING PERIOD.
JAMES REIMER HASN’T SEEN A MINUTE OF ACTION SINCE CARLYLE REPLACED WILSON BEHIND THE BENCH… THOSE ON-ICE FIGURES MUST INDEED SEEM LIKE AN APPARITION (BELOW) FOR OPTIMUS REIM.
VERIZON CENTER ICE IS BATHED IN RED BEFORE START OF THE SECOND PERIOD (ABOVE-LEFT); OL’ YELLOW-LACES (ABOVE-RIGHT) WAS HELD OFF THE SCORE-SHEET FOR ONE OF THE FEW TIMES AGAINST THE LEAFS, BUT HE PLAYED A TOUGH, PHYSICAL GAME.
CAPITALS WINGER JOEL WARD LANDED BLADES-UP AFTER A SECOND-PERIOD SCRAMBLE IN FRONT OF THE LEAFS NET.
GUSTAVSSON ALLOWED ONLY TWO GOALS OVER THE WEEKEND BUT LOST BOTH GAMES. HE MISPLACED HIS GOAL-STICK ON SUNDAY EVENING (BELOW) BUT HAD IT RETURNED TO HIM BY TYLER BOZAK.
THE 2008-09 CAPITALS HAD THAT INCREDIBLE, SEVEN-GAME PLAYOFF WITH PITTSBURGH DURING WHICH ALEX OVECHKIN AND SIDNEY CROSBY TRADED MIRACLES. CROSBY FINISHED OFF THE CAPS WITH A COLOSSAL PERFORMANCE IN THE DECIDING MATCH AT VERIZON CENTER – A GAME I WAS FORTUNATE TO COVER FOR THE FAN-590.
MATHIEU PERREAULT (85 ABOVE) WAS A PRESENCE ALL NIGHT ON SUNDAY AND HE SCORED THE INSURANCE MARKER IN THE OPENING MINUTE OF THE THIRD PERIOD.
IN A LAST-DITCH EFFORT TO BREAK THE GOOSE-EGG, CARLYLE DIAGRAMMED A PLAY FOR HIS CHARGES (ABOVE). BUT, THE CAPS MAINTAINED CONTROL OF THE PUCK WITH SOME GOOD CORNER-WORK (BELOW-LEFT) AND THE VISITORS SULKED TO THEIR DRESSING ROOM AFTER ANOTHER SHUT-OUT DEFEAT.
EQUIPMENT IN THE BAG, ABOVE-LEFT, HAS BEEN USED ONLY IN PRACTICE SINCE CARLYLE TOOK OVER FROM WILSON LAST WEEK. JAY ROSEHILL HAS SEEN MUCH MORE ICE-TIME THAN REIMER, BUT HE SAT OUT HERE IN WASHINGTON AND LEFT THE ARENA (ABOVE-RIGHT) MOMENTS AFTER THE GAME.
CARLYLE SPOKE OF HIS TEAM “NEEDING A BOUNCE” AFTER THE GAME ON SUNDAY – PAUL HENDRICK FLASHING HIS MOST SOLEMN LOOK (BELOW) FOR THE OCCASION.
DAMN IF I’M NOT PICTURED ON FRONT OF THE CAPITALS SINGLE-GAME MEDIA PASS FOR THE SECOND TIME IN THREE YEARS. THAT’S ME (BOTTOM-LEFT OF PHOTO) HOLDING THE FAN-590 MICROPHONE WHILE SCRUMMING DEFENSEMAN MIKE GREEN DURING THE 2009 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS. JOHN LU OF TSN IS IN RIGHT OF PHOTO.
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