Randy Carlyle

Under Pressure: Randy Carlyle

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“If you’re worried about optics in this market, it’s going to be a disaster. I think you have to make a decision based on what you think is the best decision for the organization, and this in our minds was clearly the best option.

“He was a guy we believe can get the job done for us. Whether optics are that it’s the wrong thing to do or not doesn’t really matter to us. If you’re looking at trying to please people, you’re probably going to make some poor decisions.”

That was Toronto GM Dave Nonis this past May, talking about the decision to extend head coach Randy Carlyle. The move came under heavy fire as the optics of retaining Carlyle, who presided over a Leafs team that went 2-12-0 down the stretch and collapsed out of playoff contention, left many scratching their heads. Several other coaches that whiffed on the playoffs met their demise — John Tortorella, Adam Oates and Barry Trotz, to name a few — and Nonis made it clear there was some issue at the coaching level by turfing all three of Toronto’s assistants.

Yet when the dust settled, Carlyle remained. One of the few constants in an offseason filled with change.

The Leafs really shifted course this summer. They hired a new president, Brendan Shanahan, then emerged as progressive club on the advanced analytics front — first, with the hiring of 28-year-old assistant GM Kyle Dubas, known as a fancy stat advocate with OHL Sault Ste. Marie; then, with the creation of an advanced numbers department, spearheaded by the guy that used to run Extra Skater.

Change happened on the ice, too.

Gone, it seems, are the day of trotting out truculent bottom-six forwards like Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren. Toronto had itself a Moneyball-esque summer, signing (slightly) flawed veterans on the cheap in the hope of striking gold — guys like former 30-goal scorer David Booth (signed for $1.1M after getting bought out of a disastrous situation in Vancouver), skilled center Mike Santorelli (inked for $1.5M after last season was cut short by season-ending shoulder surgery) and power forward Daniel Winnik (who fell out of favor in Anaheim, remained unsigned ’til August, then came to Toronto for $1.3M). These additions, along with Finnish forwards Petri Kontiola and Leo Komarov, should give Toronto the most depth it’s had up front in the Carlyle era.

As such, the pressure is on.

By keeping Carlyle after last year’s collapse, the message was loud and clear — this was on the players, not the coach. But from that point forward, the challenge was put on everybody to achieve more, coaches included. Expectations have been heightened and there is a demand for improvement — for example, Toronto could have a wildly competitive training camp, as there are 15 forwards on NHL contracts fighting for 12 spots.

All of this, of course, comes back to Carlyle, who has now been given tools to succeed: new players, new assistants and a new, fresh look at the managerial level. If that pressure wasn’t obvious enough, Nonis ensured it in May by saying his coach needs to get through to this group.

“If you’ve seen it being done before with most of the same players, or a lot of the same players, and with that coach leading that group, I know it can happen,” said Nonis. “I know it has happened with this group before. I know that (Carlyle) has reached them before, reached them at times this year.

“For me it’s not that we’re guessing whether or not he can have success or he can get through to them. We’ve seen it. I know that it’s there and we feel he is the guy that can get through to this group.”

Video: Gudbranson and Martin drop the gloves in spirited scrap

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We asked earlier tonight if the bad blood between the Canucks and Leafs would spill over into tonight’s rematch. It had been pretty tame — unlike what occurred last month.

But there were some fireworks and, as expected following the events of Nov. 5, the combatants were Canucks defenseman Erik Gudbranson and Maple Leafs tough guy Matt Martin.

The two dropped the gloves for a heavyweight scrap during the second period, with both landing some major shots.

 

Avalanche captain Landeskog (lower-body injury) could make upcoming road trip

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Gabriel Landeskog #92 of the Colorado Avalanche awaits a face off against the Anaheim Ducks at Pepsi Center on April 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. the Ducks defeated the Avalanche 5-3. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Placed on injured reserve earlier this week, Gabriel Landeskog may be close to returning to the Colorado Avalanche lineup.

Out with a lower-body injury for the past eight games, including tonight’s home contest against the Dallas Stars, Landeskog reportedly skated briefly with his teammates on Saturday. Head coach Jared Bednar provided more reason for optimism on the condition of the Colorado captain when he spoke to the media.

“He’s been working in the gym the last couple of days,” Bednar told the Denver Post.

“He’s been progressing. He feels better again today. He skated slightly on his own there for a few minutes, and that seemed to go well. I’ve already talked to (trainer Matt Sokolowski) about that. I would expect he’s a guy who’s going to continue to move forward here and probably be on the road trip with us.”

The Avalanche could certainly use their leader in the lineup.

They sit tied for last in the West with the Arizona Coyotes and Bednar, earlier this week, ripped his team for a lack of intensity following a 5-3 loss to Nashville on Tuesday.

The Avalanche begin a four-game road trip on Tuesday, as they face the Predators.

The Predators coughed up a three-goal lead in OT loss to Devils

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 14:  Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators stretches during a timeout against the Chicago Blackhawks at Bridgestone Arena on October 14, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Sanford Myers/Getty Images)
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Michael Cammalleri‘s second goal of the game with 18 seconds remaining on the clock in overtime capped New Jersey’s comeback from three goals down in the third period and gave the Devils a 5-4 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Taylor Hall took a pass from Cammalleri and brought the puck up the right side into the offensive zone on a 2-on-1 break, passed it back to Cammalleri cutting up the middle and he fired it past Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.

Cammalleri started the Devils’ comeback from a 4-1 deficit after two as he fired a rebound into an open net 25 seconds into the third.

Andy Greene pulled New Jersey within one 30 seconds later and Adam Henrique tied it with a power-play goal through Rinne’s legs with 7:23 remaining.

Hall had a goal and two assists, Travis Zajac also had two assists and Green added one for the Devils, who were 0-4-2 in their previous six road games. Keith Kincaid stopped 38 shots to improve to 3-1-2.

Kevin Fiala had two goals and P.K. Subban and Roman Josi also scored for the Predators, who fell to 9-1-2 at home. Rinne, a five-time All-Star, gave up five goals on 22 shots.

New Jersey evened its record to 6-6 in games beyond regulation, and Nashville fell to 0-4.

Fiala gave the Predators a 1-0 lead when Matt Irwin‘s point shot appeared to bounce off him into the net with 3:46 left in the first.

Hall tied it 1:17 later when he swatted a rebound out of the air past Rinne.

Nashville went back ahead on Subban’s wrist shot from the slot with 39 seconds left in the opening period. Five of Subban’s six goals have come at home.

Fiala’s second goal increased the Predators lead to 3-1 on a tic-tac-toe play from Craig Smith and Mike Ribeiro at 6:02 of the second period.

Josi extended the Predators’ advantage to 4-1 when he blasted a one-timer from just inside the center of blue line past Kinkaid with 5:29 left in the second.

Oilers lose Nurse for the ‘long term’ with a lower-body injury

Edmonton Oilers v Arizona Coyotes
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Tough news for the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.

The Oilers have lost sophomore defenseman Darnell Nurse for the ‘long term’ with a lower-body injury, coach Todd McLellan told reporters. In 25 games this season, the 21-year-old Nurse has three goals and five points.

Another update is expected at a later time from general manager Peter Chiarelli, although it was speculated in the Edmonton Sun that the injury could be a broken foot. McLellan said the injury occurred against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.

From the Edmonton Sun:

With Nurse going on injured reserve, Mark Fayne, who was on waivers a week ago but was recalled when Eric Gryba was hurt in practice, will play his first game since injuring his knee against Carolina Oct. 18. He only played 2:27 in that game. Fayne will likely play with Oscar Klefbom. Matt Benning will be with Andrej Sekera.

The Oilers also recalled defenceman Dillon Simpson from the Bakersfield Condors as a seventh guy. Brandon Davidson (shoulder) is skating and practising but is a week to 10 days from playing. He could find his way into the top six when deemed ready, too.

The Oilers host the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday. These two teams are tied with 28 points in the Pacific Division. The winner tonight takes over sole possession of second in the division.