It’s been one year since Randy Carlyle took over behind the bench of the Maple Leafs. On March 3, 2012, Carlyle made his Toronto coaching debut following the dismissal of Ron Wilson the previous day, defeating the Canadiens 3-1 in Montreal in front of a national TV audience.
In the forty games that have been played by the Leafs under Carlyle’s tenure, they have posted a record of 19-18-3. Heading into Monday’s matchup against New Jersey, Toronto sits sixth in the Eastern Conference, surprising many observers who have pegged the squad as a non-playoff team.
There are some noticeable differences in the Leafs’ play in the Carlyle regime. The most obvious is the play of Nazem Kadri. The team’s leading scorer with 21 points in 22 games, Kadri made no secret of his newly established comfort role that he could never find while playing for Wilson. Not only was his first career hat trick last Thursday against the Islanders a thing of beauty, but his creativity and vision have also made his assists highlight-worthy.
The penalty-kill has also received a boost. When Wilson was fired, the team was faltering at a 76.5% efficiency when at least one man short, second-last in the league. In the twelve months that Carlyle has been the coach, Toronto has killed 81 of 100 penalties, which places them in the middle of the pack.
But the defining characteristic of Carlyle’s influence is accountability. And it starts with the 2007 Stanley Cup champion himself.
Carlyle demands the best from his players, but also isn’t hesitant to fall on his sword. In the early part of the season when defencemen Dion Phaneuf and Mike Kostka were paired together, and used beyond their effectiveness, the bench boss realized his error. “We played them too much,” said Carlyle after a loss in which both blueliners logged over 30 minutes of ice time. “We have to take responsibility for that as a coaching staff.”
Following a costly regulation loss to Ottawa on February 23, goaltender Ben Scrivens looked clumsy in failing to cover an attempt to freeze the puck, resulting in the winning goal by Colin Greening with under 24 seconds left in regulation time. But Carlyle refused to let his netminder hang out to dry. “I think I’ve got to bear responsibility, I should have called a timeout with 28 seconds left for the faceoff. Those are the things that you have to do. I made that mistake or we as a coaching staff made that mistake, so we have to learn from that.”
With Carlyle at the helm, playing time has no relation to salary earnings. Both Mike Komisarek and John-Michael Liles, who combine to make nearly $8 million (pro-rated) this season, have been healthy scratches for the past several games.
Carlyle has a way to go before being considered a Jack Adams nominee. His overuse of enforcer Colton Orr in an embarrassing loss to Montreal last week left more than a few people scratching their heads. And the Leafs’ power-play ranking is in the middle of the league, but at 17.9% over the past year, is 1.4% lower than it was win Wilson’s last season.
But with Carlyle being his own harshest critic, it’s hard for that level of accountability not to perpetuate throughout the rest of the team.
Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca
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