BOSTON – The Randy Carlyle Way may be taking its time in getting a grip on the Toronto Maple Leafs but others are starting to see it.
Like Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien.
“You’re starting to see his imprint on the team,” Julien said of Carlyle, who will coach his ninth game for the Leafs when they play the Bruins Monday night.
A cynic might look at Carlyle’s 3-4-1 record and say, “Yes, Carlyle’s defensive-first system is taking hold. Now the Leafs are good enough to lose by one goal.”
However, it’s obvious Julien, no slouch when it comes to teaching successful defensive hockey, likes what he sees. Julien declined to get into specifics after the Bruins’ game-day skate, but he did allow that Carlyle is tempering the Leafs’ go-go approach under former coach Ron Wilson.
“You are starting to see [Carlyle’s]imprint on the team, in the fore-checking and the D [defensive]zone,” Julien said. “Let me put it this way – Ron was a very aggressive coach and Randy – not that he’s not aggressive – spends a lot of time making sure the defensive approach is there as well.”
Monday night’s game against the Bruins will give Carlyle a good look at how much farther he has to go with his new charges. The defending Stanley Cup champions have treated the Leafs like their personal whipping boys this season. In five games, the best the Leafs have done is a 5-4 loss four days after Carlyle took over on Mar. 2. In the other four Bruin wins, the Leafs were outscored 23-6.
While Carlyle makes it clear the Leafs players are auditioning for next season’s jobs, he does not want to place too much emphasis on a game against an elite team like the Bruins.
“I think it’s a chance to play against the Stanley Cup champions,” Carlyle said of Monday’s game. “I don’t look at it any other way.
“The reality is you’re not going to be judged on one game. We’re not using this game as a [sole]measuring stick. We have a template in place. We want the players to play to it.”
The Leafs won their last two games and go into the Boston game off a decent effort in Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators. But when asked if he sees any progress, Carlyle said he will leave that report to the media.
“It’s hard to say yes and it’s hard to say no,” he said. “There has been progress in some areas and there are some areas we’d like to see more.”
One encouraging sign is the Leafs’ willingness to block shots, always an accurate indicator of a team’s mettle. The Leafs blocked 27 shots against the Senators, a number that impressed their coach.
“Those are the little things that make the difference between winning and losing,” Carlyle said. “Are we going to ask them to block 27 shots every night? It will depend on the situation.
“When you start blocking shots and winning the one-on-one battles, you start feeling better about yourselves.”
James Reimer will make his fourth consecutive start in goal for the Leafs against the Bruins. Tim Thomas will start for the Bruins.