Notebook: Leafs working hard for Carlyle

After Randy Carlyle lost 5-2 to his current employers as Anaheim’s coach on Nov. 27, he had a particularly blunt assessment of his team’s first half struggles.

“I think we just seem to be dead between the ears,” Carlyle said after the 515th of the 516 games he coached the Ducks, a team with whom he won seven playoff series, including the 2007 Stanley Cup.

When Bruce Boudreau was announced as his replacement on Dec. 1, several core members of the team’s leadership made it sound as if the divorce was probably a welcome direction after just three wins and many jagged performances over a 19-game stretch.

“Over time it’s a natural progression for some guys to tune out certain things and maybe not buy in quite as much as they should be,” captain Ryan Getzlaf said at Boudreau’s introduction.

“That’s on us as players, not as a coach.”

Carlyle, who has won more playoff games than all current NHL coaches except for Mike Babcock, replaced Ron Wilson as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ bench boss on March 2. With him comes the reputation of fairly consistent playoff success, sustained by an often grueling and unrelenting practice and preparedness schedule.

“They will earn their paychecks every day,” Shawn Thornton said to Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star of the work ethic demanded by his former Anaheim coach.

His honest and blunt characterization of team play that accurately described the Ducks’ first-half struggles has now turned its attention to a Toronto squad that has two wins in its last 14 games.

Characterizing the team’s home struggles to Boston as “embarrassing” at a morning skate earlier in the week, he gave several ominous signs of the hard work demanded from a team on the upswing with talent but still a ways to go before they’ve developed the attitude, confidence and work ethic necessary of a typical Carlyle team.

“(Improving) the compete level is what’s going to turn this hockey club around,” Carlyle said after the Maple Leafs fell 5-4 to the Bruins, marking an 0-5 record and minus-18 goal differential in the season series against their Northeast Division rivals.

“Tonight was just another indication of the work that’s ahead.”

If the Leafs don’t yet have a quality goaltender capable of shouldering a heavy load, they at least have a demanding coach whose commitment to raising a team’s compete level has the ability to improve the overall defense playing in front of the net. It was a louder and more direct voice that may have been droned out by his former locker room, but one that should be heard as a symphony among a young and growing Toronto roster, or so Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke thinks.

“Randy wasn’t the problem,” Bobby Ryan said of the Ducks’ earlier struggles this season.

“Randy is a very methodical coach and he provided us with the Xs and the Os. There was a lack of something in between executing it and getting it from him. And that’s where we failed. He didn’t really fail us.”


Sidney Crosby recently returned to full-contact practice with the Pittsburgh Penguins, reaching the final stage in his comeback from a soft-tissue neck injury and concussion-like symptoms that will keep him out of the lineup for the 39th consecutive game on Friday.

He’ll apparently be right on the verge of returning when the Bruins visit in a nationally televised game Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET, though he downplayed targeting a particular date when speaking with reporters on Wednesday.

“You try not to think about things too much,” Crosby said. “You never know how long the process is going to be so you don’t want to think too far ahead.”

If he’s able to insert himself into Pittsburgh’s lineup for good, and if Kris Letang is able to return from the symptoms of a concussion he’s enduring, Pittsburgh emerges as the favorite to win the Cup. Much credit has to go to Dan Bylsma, who has maintained confidence and encouragement in a locker room that has been beset by a rash of injuries. “The first thing that I saw when I came in here was how much fun they have,” James Neal said earlier in the year.

With seven straight wins heading into this weekend’s action — the team also recorded an eight-game streak in January — Bylsma has guided the Penguins to 85 points with 16 games to play, the second-highest point total in the Eastern Conference and the current four seed.

With Crosby limited to just eight games this season and the Penguins holding on to home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the team more than weathered the storm in his absence and is in position for a legitimate Cup run.

“Our whole team has bought into a system, and we’ve been playing it well,” Chris Kunitz said earlier this year. “…It’s just kind of playing the systems, but making sure you do your job out there, and our team becomes successful when everybody does their own job.

Crosby, as reported by the Toronto Star, has been able to feel the team’s makeup despite being off the ice for so long.

“We have a lot of character here, a lot of guys who understand the adversity teams go through during the season,” Crosby said.

With a four-point return as part of a 12-point, eight-game stint earlier this season, Crosby is certainly capable of returning at a high caliber of play and instantly injects life into an already-rolling Penguins squad. Should he return within the next week or two, the Penguins will be peaking at just the right time.


Jack Johnson scored the game winning goal and was named the game’s second star as the Columbus Blue Jackets ran their season-high winning streak to four games with a 3-1 win over visiting Los Angeles on Thursday, while Jeff Carter was routinely booed in a game he finished a minus-1 and didn’t register a shot on goal in. It was the second time in the past week fans were able to see players traded for each other on the same ice surface– Cody Hodgson, Alex Sulzer and Buffalo defeated Zack Kassian, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Vancouver, 5-3, despite Kassian’s two points at Rogers Arena on March 3.

We recently gauged the teams’ immediate results following their moves approaching the deadline and found that teams that made larger moves often stood something to gain.

To Colorado: F Steve Downie
To Tampa Bay: D Kyle Quincey

Quincey was later traded to Detroit for a first-round draft pick and ECHL D Sebastien Piche.
Downie stats since trade: 8 GP, 2 G, 8 A, 10 Pts, 8 PIM, +7
Quincey stats since trade (w/ DET): 5 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 Pts, 6 PIM, +4
Early analysis: While there was chatter over Steve Yzerman’s ability to flip Kyle Quincey for Detroit’s late first-round draft pick, it was Colorado that received the player who provided his new team the most immediate impact after the trade. Downie’s emotions have been left in check as he’s played with a banged-up shoulder while still finding strong chemistry opposite Gabriel Landeskog on a line centered by Ryan O’Reilly. Quincey appropriately rounds out the Wings’ top two defensive pairs with intelligence and the ability to contribute to both the power play and penalty kill.

To Los Angeles: F Jeff Carter
To Columbus: D Jack Johnson, 1st round draft pick

Carter stats since trade: 6 GP, 2 G, 0 A, 2 Pts, 0 PIM, even
Johnson stats since trade: 6 GP, 2 G, 2 A, 4 Pts, 5 PIM, +2
Early analysis: A combined 8-4 since the traded players joined their new teams, both Los Angeles and Columbus have been able to reap some early benefits from this trade. Though Carter’s only two points were a pair of goals scored in a 4-2 win over Anaheim last Saturday, LA has scored at least four goals in four out of six and chased Pekka Rinne in a 5-4 win over Nashville before Thursday’s loss in Columbus. Johnson was named the game’s first star with a one-goal, one assist performance in a 3-2 win over Phoenix Tuesday before his game-winning goal and second star performance in Thursday’s 3-1 win over the Kings.

To Vancouver: F Zack Kassian, D Marc-Andre Gragnani
To Buffalo: F Cody Hodgson, D Alexander Sulzer

Kassian stats since trade: 5 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 Pts, 2 PIM, -1
Gragnani stats since trade: 4 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 Pts, 4 PIM, -1
Hodgson stats since trade: 6 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 Pts, 0 PIM, even
Sulzer stats since trade: 3 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 Pts, 2 PIM, +1
Early analysis: Though Kassian appears to be the sandpaper mainstay for the considerable future in the Canucks’ lineup, Buffalo won 5-3 in Vancouver last week and is 4-1 since the trading deadline, rising to within two points of the East’s final playoff spot. Kassian also earned only 6:52 of ice time in Thursday’s win over the Jets. The upward-trending Sabres are finally returning to health, and in addition to picking up Nashville’s first-round pick, Buffalo also picked up the best player traded on deadline day in Cody Hodgson, even if his stats don’t yet reflect his value. Both teams appear to benefit in both the short- and-long term with this trade.

To San Jose: F Daniel Winnik, F T.J. Galiardi, 7th round draft pick
To Colorado: F Jamie McGinn, F Mike Connolly (AHL), F Michael Sgarbossa (OHL)

Winnik stats since trade: 5 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 Pts, 2 PIM, +1
Galiardi stats since trade: 4 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 Pts, 2 PIM, even
McGinn stats since trade: 5 GP, 4 G, 2 A, 6 Pts, 7 PIM, +3
Connolly stats since trade: 1 GP, 0 G, 0 , 0 Pts, 2 PIM, even
Early analysis: Colorado has found immediate returns in their recent trades, as McGinn has produced early in his Avalanche career, Steve Downie’s strong play outlined above and Semyon Varlamov’s recent success make Colorado a stronger team heading out of the trading deadline. Their newcomers will need to continue to produce with Matt Duchene’s ankle injury likely keeping him out for several weeks. Nothing has been going right as of late for San Jose, though the trade above isn’t one to have a major immediate impact in the team’s scoring. They went 1-2-1 in a four-game homestand following the trade, scoring four goals in regulation.


Boston Bruins at Pittsburgh Penguins
Sunday, March 10, 12:30 PM ET

Should Sidney Crosby return, who would he play with? “Kunitz and Malkin and Neal have played spectacular and been possibly the best line in hockey for two months, 2 1/2 months,” Day Bylsma said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Would there be a reunion with Pascal Dupuis? Would he see time away from center? The most important question is whether or not Crosby plays — though if he does, look for an infectious energy throughout a Pittsburgh lineup that understands what he means to them. Boston will be coming off an afternoon home game against Washington and looking for late-season momentum; should the Bruins beat the Capitals, it would mark their first three-game winning streak in 2012. This looks like a game Pittsburgh wins by more than one goal.