TORONTO – Randy Carlyle gets second-guessed a lot.
The subject of criticism from former players and many others for his style and lineup decisions, the Toronto Maple Leafs coach sometimes gets it exactly right. Saturday night’s comeback victory over the Ottawa Senators was a prime example, as just about every in-game decision he made worked out perfectly.
“Coaches aren’t here to, I’d say, cut up wins,” he said afterward. “Let’s not over-analyse.”
No need. His Midas touch moves were very obvious.
Carlyle pulled James Reimer after the Leafs’ home-opener starter gave up four goals on 21 shots. Reimer wasn’t the problem, but it wasn’t his night.
“I think James represented what we were doing as a team, and usually that falls on the goalie,” Carlyle said. “I didn’t think that our hockey club was playing anywhere near to the level, we weren’t competing and I didn’t think that the puck was bouncing, the rebounds and the pucks were bouncing away from James Reimer versus bouncing for him, so I made the decision.”
All Jonathan Bernier did from the 10:56 mark of the second period on is stop every shot he faced: 15 in regulation and overtime and then two more in the shootout.
Reimer figured the Leafs would come back and win.
“I didn’t think it was Reim’s fault, they just wanted to change the momentum and it worked,” Bernier said.
If there was blame to place on Toronto falling behind 4-2 midway through the game, it fell on defencemen Cody Franson and Morgan Rielly. The pair was on the ice for three goals against within the first dozen shifts together.
“I thought Morgan Rielly played well. As the game went on he got better,” Carlyle said. “You got to see more of what he’s about. I think he made some mistakes like we all do, and I think in the hockey game specifically in the first half of the hockey game I don’t think he got a lot of support from his teammates.”
And while Rielly’s even-strength ice time dipped slightly in the second period, Carlyle kept going back to the 19-year-old who was making his NHL debut and leaned on him in some difficult situations.
“He’s a young kid that’s got skill, and he earned it,” Carlyle said. “You can see he can separate himself with his skating ability, he can read plays. He just needs to get his feet underneath him at the NHL level.”
With his parents in attendance at Air Canada Centre and Franson talking him through the jitters, Rielly felt more comfortable as the game went on. On paper (a minus-3 rating) he conceded it was “probably not the greatest game ever played,” but he got a psychological boost as he kept taking regular shifts despite some struggles.
“That’s always helpful when you’re out there quite a bit and you have a chance to try to kind of get in a groove,” Rielly said. “I was able to do that.”
Not everyone was given that long of a leash. Carlyle shortened his bench in the second, meaning rookies Spencer Abbott and Jamie Devane didn’t see the ice again in the third period.
With Mason Raymond and Dave Bolland looking like Toronto’s best players, Carlyle put the newcomers with winger Joffrey Lupul, and that line continued to dominate for the rest of the night. Lupul even scored on the power play late in the second period on a pass from Raymond.
Some combinations were a little strange, like when Colton Orr and Jay McClement got on to the ice with Nazem Kadri. But like everything else Carlyle did against Ottawa, it was part of a winning recipe.
Of course the shootout hasn’t been Carlyle’s strength, and Toronto hadn’t won one since March 23, 2012, his 11th game behind the bench for the Leafs. In his 69th game Saturday, Raymond and Tyler Bozak beat Craig Anderson to complete the comeback.
Just hold off on the praise there for the head coach.
“You can applaud Greg Cronin, the assistant coach, because he’s the guy that selected the shooters,” Carlyle said.
Of course the Leafs had to get to the shootout first, and Carlyle deserves the bulk of credit for his part in a victory that has them 3-0 to start the season.