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Leafs vs Habs: Game 1 of the Carlyle Era

March 4, 2012

Saturday night, Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC) and its the Leafs vs the Habs.  Both clubs have been in turmoil this season and both clubs have jettisoned their opening night head coaches. Neither team is in a playoff position, but the Maple Leafs were hoping for a turnaround with the entrance of their new coach, Randy Carlyle.

With just 18 games remaining in the regular season and sitting 12th in the conference, Carlyle has  long way to go to get the Leafs into the playoffs this year.  Being introduced to his new team less than 24 hours before having to face the rival Canadiens on national television in Montreal must have weighed on Carlyle’s mind just a little bit. On the other hand, maybe the team would respond with a good effort in order to impress the new coach.

Initially, it appeared that the coaching change had done nothing and that the Leafs of the recent 1-9-1 streak were still content to forget to appear in the first period. Erik Cole scored the first goal and the split crowd in the Bell Centre showed some despondent Leaf fans. Mike Brown took on newly acquired waiver-wire pickup, Brad Staubitz, less than 5 minutes later and provided a little spark that Toronto desperately needed.

While they wouldn’t score, the Buds would out-shoot the Habs and started to use their speed to their advantage.  Rookie Matt Frattin tied the game with a quick wrister off a scrummed face-off near the beginning of the second period as the Leafs tried to keep the pressure on Montreal. The third period brought more pressure on both sides, but a terrible line change by the Canadiens gave the Leafs’ Mikhail Grabovski a wide open shot at Carey Price and he buried it up top.

While Toronto never looked like they were in a comfortable lead, a power play goal at the end of the third, again by Grabovski, closed out the game.  Grabovski ended with three points against his old team and Carlyle started his career in Toronto with a big win.  Given that he had just one chance to meet the team and a morning skate before leading his team against a division rival, Randy Carlyle came out looking brilliant.  How much of that is due to the fact that the team was happy to get rid of their previous coach?

Next up – Boston. Let’s see if the Leafs can come out with a second (really third) straight 60 minute, solid effort.

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