By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Oct. 17) — I have finally determined why Randy Carlyle gave up on his No. 1 goalie after two games: Lockout Season Syndrome.
It previously impacted the coach when Matt Frattin and Leo Komarov were re-acquired in the summer and it indicates how dreadfully Frattin must have performed in training camp to not make the team. You see, ol’ Randy lays awake at night hallucinating about that 48-game wonder two seasons ago. The lockout-abbreviated sprint during which Toronto Maple Leafs made the playoffs for the only time in the past decade. It ended calamitously in Boston, yet it doesn’t prevent Carlyle – during transcendental meditation – from softly repeating “Bergeron… Bergeron… Bergeron.” A lousy mantra is better than no mantra at all.
How else does one explain the demotion of Jonathan Bernier with 80 games left on the schedule? It’s the equivalent of a football coach pulling his No. 1 quarterback in the first 12 minutes of the season opener. Carlyle’s mishandling of Bernier last March led directly to the collapse that took Leafs out of the playoffs. He had already thrown in the towel on Reimer but was forced to deploy his No. 2 goalie in five consecutive games (Mar. 16-23) while Bernier recovered well enough from a groin injury to get back on skates. The club lost all five as part of a season-killing eight-game slide. That turned Leafs Nation against Reimer, who was all but written off during the summer. Now, Reimer is again Carlyle’s golden boy and the new flavor-of-the-week among Leaf supporters, just like during the 48-game lockout schedule when Carlyle experienced his only success as coach of the Blue and White.
See how the dots connect?
Of course, the dots will stay connected only until Reimer has a bad game. Or until Bernier has a good game. Then, the cycle will begin to repeat itself. In my view, Carlyle’s biggest failing as coach is his deployment of musical goalies. It flies in the face of every tenet that relates to the most important position in hockey. The attainment — and maintenance of — self-confidence is so critical for a goalie, and difficult enough to cultivate internally without a coach’s ambivalence. Bernier desperately needs support as he transitions from back-up in Los Angeles to starter in Toronto. He’s had no-such benefit from Carlyle. Reimer’s personality is more adaptive. It doesn’t necessarily make him a better performer but it softens the impact of uncertainty. Nor is indecision as much of a burden on a No. 2 goalie.
For Bernier, stability is imperative. Like us, he can look at the top playoff teams from last spring and see the pattern: Los Angeles (Jonathan Quick), New York Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist), Chicago (Corey Crawford) and Montreal (Carey Price) all have indisputable No. 1 goalies. Boston has similarly excelled with Tuukka Rask. The Maple Leafs plummeted in March and April largely as a result of goaltending confusion and mistrust. Why, then, is Carlyle heading down the same path?
Some will suggest he is on life support with the Leafs – coaching minute by minute. But, he deployed the same harmful strategy a year ago when his future was rarely a topic. You’d think Carlyle would return to the only period of success he’s enjoyed behind the Toronto bench. During the 48-game lockout schedule, he settled on Reimer as his No. 1 goalie and did not waver. Leafs made the playoffs and took Boston to the limit in the opening round. Ultimately, management concluded – rightly or wrongly – it could not move forward with Reimer. Thus the acquisition of Bernier, who performed exceptionally well while healthy last season. There was no thought whatsoever that Reimer would be the Leafs starter this year and Bernier was between the pipes – as anticipated – on opening night against Montreal. Two games later he was on the bench with Reimer making three consecutive starts.
Is this the way a functional team handles its No. 1 goalie?
Leaf followers, who live and die by the minute and never think long-term, are in love with Reimer once again. After all, he’s won two whole games. Once he falters, the howling for a replacement will begin anew. That’s all well and good for fans. A coach has to establish a goaltending blueprint at the beginning of the season… and stick with it longer than a couple of games, for crying out loud.
All, it seems, but this coach, who is bent on pedaling in reverse.
25 YEARS AGO TONIGHT
How many of you will ever forget tuning in to Game 3 of the World Series on Oct. 17, 1989 only to have the ABC telecast quickly fade to black. The 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake postponed the match and caused wide-spread damage in the two competing cities, San Francisco and Oakland. Rather than call the baseball game, Al Michaels – a native of the Bay Area – narrated the network’s earthquake coverage all through that night… now a full quarter-century ago. Wow.
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