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: Max Domi hurt after big hit, fight with Garnet Hathaway

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Dave Tippett insists that, even though he suffered an upper-body injury, Max Domi has to play with the sort of edge he showed tonight.

But, yeah, that edge left him bleeding this time around.

As you can see from the video above, Domi and Garnet Hathaway engaged in a fierce fight after a hit by Domi. The Arizona Coyotes forward left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury, and is now considered day-to-day. The price of doing business?

Domi grabbed an assist during the game, so maybe this will be the sort of thing that helps him get back on track.

Speaking of back on track, the Flames are now on a five-game winning streak while the Coyotes dropped their sixth in a row as Calgary won 2-1 in overtime. Chad Johnson remains brilliant, Mike Smith keeps getting Arizona points (they may or may not actually want in the long run) and, hey, Dougie Hamilton is still a Flame:

Penguins keep pace with Rangers on top of Metro

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 08: Bryan Rust #17 of the Pittsburgh Penguins takes a shot on Roberto Luongo #1 of the Florida Panthers during a game  at BB&T Center on December 8, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Sidney Crosby is tied for the NHL goal-scoring lead, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are tied atop the division.

They certainly impressed the struggling Florida Panthers and their new coach.

Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Penguins over the Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight, scoring 24 goals in the process. Pittsburgh had a 3-0 lead on five shots less than eight minutes in.

“It was nice to start with the lead. It was kind of weird the way things worked out,” Crosby said. “We didn’t have many shots, but we had a few goals right off the bat.”

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers.

Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses.

“I thought we showed them way too much respect in the beginning of the game. We were back on our heels a little bit,” Rowe said. “Obviously, they’ve got two of the best players in the world and I think it could have intimidated some of our younger guys a little bit.”

The Panthers have lost six of seven.

“It’s a work in progress, I guess,” Rowe said. “We’ve still got a lot of young guys in the lineup.”

Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead on Crosby’s goal 3:06 in. Crosby snapped a wrist shot from above the right circle that got through several Florida defenders and past Luongo.

Crosby is tied with Boston’s David Pastrnak for the NHL lead in goals.

“With us, we knew that they were going to be motivated,” Crosby said. “They’ve played a lot of close games lately, a lot of overtime games. When you get a new coach, everybody is trying to prove themselves. I think we expected a pretty tough game. It was just nice to get that kind of start.”

The Penguins extended their lead to 2-0 on Sheary’s tally. The initial shot by Sheary missed the net, but the puck came off the end boards and into the crease and was inadvertently kicked across the goal line by Luongo at 4:51. Crosby had an assist on the goal.

“(Crosby) is always the guy that takes the lead,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “His line gets us a couple goals early on and gets us the lead and speaks volumes for the leadership he displays night in and night out.”

Pittsburgh stretched the score to 3-0 when Scott Wilson‘s shot from the right circle deflected off Kuhnhackl and into the net at 7:34. The Panthers unsuccessfully challenged the goal, claiming Kuhnhackl interfered with Luongo.

The Panthers closed to 3-1 on Jagr’s power-play goal. Aleksander Barkov passed from below the right circle to Jagr in the slot, and his one-timer beat Murray at 6:17 of the second.

Cullen gave the Penguins a 4-1 lead at 5:48 of the third when he grabbed a rebound in front and put the puck between the pads of Luongo.

Hagelin added an empty-net goal with 32.9 seconds left to make the score 5-1.

Notes: The Penguins have gone 6-0-2 in their past eight games against the Panthers. … The Penguins sent LW Jake Guentzel and D Derrick Pouliot to AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. … Jagr has 1,882 points, putting him six behind Mark Messier for second place on the career list. … Panthers C Jonathan Marchessault missed his third game with a lower-body injury. … Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield attended the game.

UP NEXT:

Penguins: Visit Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.

Panthers: Host Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.

It’s probably too early for Predators to worry about Rinne, right?

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 26:  Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators looks on during the first period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks  at Honda Center on October 26, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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December hasn’t been kind to November’s player of the month so far.

Pekka Rinne helped hold the Nashville Predators together when they struggled early and then was there for their recent ascent, but coming into this season, many expected him to be a weakness for his team.

Especially worried types might wonder if “that” Rinne is returning after a tough Thursday performance in the Dallas Stars’ eventual 5-2 win against the Predators.

Rinne allowed four goals on 18 shots before being taken out of the game about six minutes into the second period. One of his best moments was this bit of unintentional comedy:

All kidding aside, it’s been a rough run lately, even if the sample size is small enough that it would be silly to panic.

While he did grab a win during this span, Rinne’s now allowed 12 goals in his last four games. That’s happened on 68 shots on goal, so he’d have a .823 save percentage for this span.

During his magnificent month of November, he generated an awe-inspiring .949 save percentage over 12 games.

Such a staggering disparity shows how wildly a goalie’s stats can swing thanks to an off night or two.

It would be foolish to overreact, but it’s a situation to watch as the Predators hope to round into a legitimate contender out West.

Max Pacioretty had a good, painful reason for his goal slump

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 12:  Max Pacioretty #67 of the Montreal Canadiens takes a shot during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre on November 12, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Detroit Red Wings 5-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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If your reaction to Max Pacioretty‘s relative struggles in November was to call him “soft,” you might want to backtrack right about now.

Sportsnet’s Eric Engels reported and Michel Therrien later confirmed that Pacioretty had been playing through the previous month with a broken foot (hairline fracture to be precise). That foot is healed up, allegedly.

It’s easy to look at his split stats and say, “Yeah, that explains it.”

October: two goals, seven points in nine games
November: three goals, eight points in 14 games
December: three goals, four points in four games, including a tally in Thursday’s 5-2 win against the Devils.

Either way, with Greg Pateryn added to an injury list that includes David Desharnais and Alex Galchenyuk, the Habs have to commend their captain for gritting his teeth through what must have been an agonizing month.

Then again, with his “Wolverine” healing powers, maybe it wasn’t as bad as it sounds …