So it is official: it’s no longer as much about the process as it is results, less so because head coach Randy Carlyle was goaded Tuesday into deeming the Toronto Maple Leafs status as “a crisis, in that we haven’t won enough games,” and because the players have started to look at the standings. Dion Phaneuf? Cody Franson? No more “it’s early.” Even the platitudes have started to sound a less like cliches.
And don’t look now, but James Reimer dropped an F-bomb. Okay, so it’s a B.S. bomb. As in excuses are “B.S.” Straight to hell stuff, that. And Thursday morning, when the Leafs skate ahead of their game against the Phoenix Coyotes, they will do so with whispers in the dressing room that there is a disconnect between head coach Randy Carlyle and some of his players.
Standings, eh? Points, eh? “Tough to forget about that in Toronto,” Franson said with a wry chuckle after a 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night. Added Phaneuf: “We have to start winning games because these are points we aren’t getting back.” Games in the East, Phaneuf said, are now officially four-point games. Back to Franson: is he concerned about things snowballing? “Oh yeah,” he admitted, “we’re well aware.”
The Leafs will play the Coyotes at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday, and the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, part of a run that will see them play six of seven games at home. This was supposed to be a respite, of sorts, after a string of games against some of the elite teams in the Western Conference. But that has not been the case. The Leafs lost to a short-handed Pittsburgh Penguins team that was without its top four defencemen. Then, they lost to the Panthers, who played without young star Jonathan Huberdeau. In both cases the Leafs came out appallingly flat and – sorry – a flat start is on the coach in any sport. The next narrative, if this keeps up, will be people pointing out that Carlyle is not Tim Leiweke’s guy – that the head of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Ltd., inherited Carlyle along with David Nonis.
Carlyle blistered his team twice on the bench during stoppages in play. He broke up defence pairings, moved Mason Raymond up and down the lines, benched Jake Gardiner … nothing worked. Even the goal was sloppy: Peter Holland scooting around with the puck, essentially stealing it from Joffrey Lupul who was teed up for a shot, then firing it at the net where Raymond deflected it. “I got crises every day,” Carlyle said later when he was asked if his team was on the precipice.
Good times, what with the HBO cameras in town and all. A week that saw the Toronto Star raise the spectre of Larry Murphy in connection with David Clarkson – a benign presence, if that, and whose penalty for holding the stick in the neutral zone eight minutes in compounded the slow start that saw the Panthers grab a 1-0 lead – has continued with back to back no-shows.
It’s too early to start talking about Carlyle’s job security – the sense here is we’re at least one Nonis trade away from being able to jump to that point – but it’s not too late to start thinking about it. This is Toronto.