By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Dec. 9) – Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle sounded as if someone had just released him from a choke-hold during his gathering with reporters after Sunday night’s 5-2 loss to Boston at Air Canada Centre. Whether he was hoarse from yelling at his troops, or suffering from a minor throat ailment, isn’t known. Much of what he said – and what all coaches not named John Tortorella say – was hockey techno-speak.
With one puzzling exception.
Maple Leafs were leading, 1-0, after the first period – having turned in one of their more complete 20-minute portions of the schedule. Early in the middle frame, Carter Ashton (delay of game) and Carl Gunarsson (holding) were penalized 44 seconds apart. As befits a defending Conference champion, the Bruins took full advantage with consecutive powerplay goals by Carl Soderberg and Torey Krug. When Krug scored, there remained 33 minutes and 13 seconds of playing time for the Maple Leafs to draw even. Both teams were significantly hampered by injury; both had played the previous night, and Leafs were on home ice after an uplifting – if typically pell mell – Division road triumph over Ottawa.
This, however, did not deter Carlyle from making an unseemly admission. “Bang, bang. All of a sudden, they score two [powerplay] goals and the life went out of our club.”
DION PHANEUF BATTLES WITH MILAN LUCIC OF BOSTON DURING SUNDAY NIGHT’S GAME AT AIR CANADA CENTRE – BRUINS PREVAILING, 5-2. PHANEUF HAS A PHONE HEARING WITH BRENDAN SHANAHAN ON TUESDAY FOR HIS THIRD-PERIOD HIT FROM BEHIND ON BOSTON ROOKIE KEVAN MILLER. GRAIG ABEL GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM
Wow. A modicum of adversity, spanning one minute and 33 seconds, debilitated the home team against its hardened Division nemesis. Down by a goal with more than half the game to play, Leafs apparently expired. Lost the will to compete. Became lifeless in front of their fans.
Unless memory fails me, this was not the kind of remark emanating from Leaf land in the playoffs last May. Or – for that matter – at any time during a renaissance under Carlyle that led to the club’s first post-season appearance in nearly a decade. Why would the coach make such a cavalier observation after Sunday night’s game? How could he tolerate his players losing “life” in such a circumstance? Even though Leafs did make it interesting via Jay McClement’s goal 37 seconds into the final period, is it not troublesome for the coach to admit his players languished after falling behind by one at 6:47 of the middle frame?
And, forget the situation. That’s an excuse. Yes, it can be momentarily deflating when the opposition strikes for consecutive powerplay goals to erase a well-earned lead. But, the key word here is “momentarily.” It should never suck the “life” out of a competitive team playing at home; a team encountering its prime divisional adversary; one that performed so relentlessly under the same coach the previous year.
Those that frequent this corner suggest I’ve become hyper-critical of Carlyle. They are correct. I predicted – and still expect – much more from a team guided by one of the premier strategists in the game; a man that earned praise for his extraordinary role in ending the Leafs franchise-record playoff drought. A coach with a Stanley Cup ring.
Carlyle’s credentials – as I’ve noted many times – are unassailable. But, I’ll ask again: Has this crop of Toronto players lost his ear? It is difficult to imagine that Leafs are incapable of absorbing a plan of attack, especially considering the number of returning components from last year’s squad. Why do the players keep doing the opposite of what Carlyle expects – practically in every game? And, how can there be any justification for the team becoming lifeless – as Carlyle insisted – after such a brief spell of misfortune on Sunday?
Do you have the answers?
BEING MORE CAREFUL: Dion Phaneuf is an honest player with a fairly clean slate and an integral part of whatever the Maple Leafs hope to accomplish this year. But, the Toronto captain should have held up, late in Sunday’s game, when Bruins rookie Kevan Miller was turned toward the corner glass. Instead, Phaneuf drove Miller – I assume unintentionally – face-first into the dasher. I’m not one to harp on officiating in the NHL but I cannot fathom how neither Tim Peel nor Dennis LaRue – each an excellent referee – failed to notice the glaring infraction. Perhaps both had their eyes on Patrice Bergeron, who was simultaneously penalized (at 17:43 of the third period) for holding Leafs’ Mason Raymond. In any event, and regardless of intention, Phaneuf is responsible for his comportment on the ice and the NHL has long frowned on hitting from behind. Dion has a telephone hearing slated for Tuesday afternoon with Brendan Shanahan. I predict he’ll be suspended for two games – taking him out of Wednesday night’s home date with Los Angeles and Thursday’s follow-up in St. Louis.
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