Author: James O'Brien

Randy Carlyle, Toronto Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs fire Randy Carlyle

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The Randy Carlyle era is suddenly – some might argue, mercifully – over in Toronto, as the Maple Leafs announced his firing on Tuesday morning.

The team’s exact phrase is “head coach Randy Carlyle has been relieved of his duties.” While that’s soaking with corporate speak, it almost feels right in this case, as coaching in the pressure cooker that is Toronto must generate a massive helping of stress.

The Leafs noted that assistant coaches Peter Horachek and Steve Spott will guide the ship for Wednesday’s game against the Washington Capitals, but didn’t announce plans beyond that contest.

“I want to thank Randy for all of his hard work and dedication,” GM Dave Nonis said. “It’s never an easy decision to make when changing your leadership but our team was not trending in the right direction and we felt an immediate change was necessary.”

The Maple Leafs generated a 91-78-19 record during parts of four seasons with Carlyle at the helm. He helped Toronto break a six-season playoff drought, although the 2013 postseason run memorably ended in a disastrous fashion against the Boston Bruins.

Toronto is currently on a two-game losing streak and has dropped seven of nine games. Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets seemed like a microcosm of critics’ biggest beefs with Carlyle: the Jets generated a 40-21 shot edge and prompted a fan to chuck a Leafs jersey on the ice (in Winnipeg).

This stretch seemed like the last straw, although one cannot help but wonder if the writing was on the wall once exec Brendan Shanahan began transitioning the franchise toward a more stats-leaning path. Even a contract extension did little to stop calls for Carlyle’s head, and as we’ve now found out, such speculation was justified.

One interesting thought on the timing of this firing:

Naturally, the replacement rumors will only rev up now that the inevitable happened …

An abbreviated look at the unraveling of the Carlyle era

Nonis puts onus on players back in November

Why he was failing at his job

Cody Franson said players weren’t trying to get him fired

Leafs hand Carlyle a contract extension

A lot of jerseys were lost in the making of this firing

Rangers approach ‘hardest road trip of the season’

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers
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As fantastic as things have been for the New York Rangers lately, there’s an imbalance that stands out: they’ve played six more games at home than on the road. By the time they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 18 (on NBC), things will be closer to even … but we’ll see what kind of shape the Rangers are in by then.

Simply put, the next seven games serve as a serious test for a Rangers squad that’s won 10 of its last 11 games.

Wednesday: at Anaheim
Thursday: at Los Angeles
Saturday: at San Jose
Jan. 13: vs. the Islanders
Jan. 15: at Boston
Jan. 16: at Columbus
Jan. 18: at Pittsburgh

Considering how much tougher the Columbus Blue Jackets have been lately – not to mention all the former Rangers who probably mark these games on their calendar – there’s really not a “gimme” in that bunch.

Derick Brassard admitted that this a challenging stretch to the Bergen Record.

“I think it’s the hardest road trip in the season,” Brassard said.

“It doesn’t matter who we are playing, we play hard. It’s going to be a big test for our team.”

So far, the Rangers are 8-6-1 on the road and were especially hearty away from home in 2013-14, going 25-14-2 away from Madison Square Garden. This has been a tremendous month of work for New York, but it looks like will learn a lot about this team in the next two weeks.

PHT Morning Skate: Putin vs. Poutine

Vladimir Putin
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Fans made the Vladimir Putin – poutine connection on at least two occasions during the 2015 World Junior Championship gold-medal game between Canada and Russia (which Canada won).

As usual, the Internet got weird about it.

*shudders* Moving on …

Connor McDavid had high praise for Sam Reinhart –

Brent Burns’ love of locker room pizza continues

The Vancouver Canucks had a prank for Eddie Lack on his birthday:

Video: Sharks best Jets on Vlasic’s buzzer-beater

vlasicap
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It wasn’t always pretty, but it seemed like the Winnipeg Jets might squeeze out a standings point or two against the San Jose Sharks tonight, even with a threadbare defense.

That held true for much of Monday’s game, yet it was all for naught as Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored in the waning moments to give San Jose a 3-2 regulation win (and Winnipeg zero points for its troubles):

Ouch.

This marks the Sharks second win in five tries while the Jets have dropped three of their last four games.

As strong as Michael Hutchinson was in net at times on Monday, Winnipeg left the game empty-handed (and probably muttering a few choice words).

One situation to watch for San Jose is Tomas Hertl’s health. He took a wayward Logan Couture puck to the face while sitting on the bench and needed to leave for repairs.

Exhale: Canada holds off Russia, wins 2015 WJC gold

Connor McDavid
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Canada probably made a few hearts skip a beat in Toronto, but ultimately they held on to beat Russia 5-4 to win gold at the 2015 World Junior Championship on Monday. It’s the dominant country’s first gold in this format since 2009.

They raced out to a 5-1 lead, yet a penalty-heavy second period melted that margin to an excruciating one-goal difference. There were countless close calls, yet Canada managed to bend-but-not break enough to win it all.

Again, it was an edge-of-your-seat finish, especially if you were rooting for Canada or Russia. Just ask Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, who has enjoyed dramatic highs and lows of his own at the WJC:

It was a scintillating preview of hockey’s future, especially in regard to possible 2015 first overall pick Connor McDavid (pictured).

McDavid scored a goal in the gold-medal game, yet it was once again Arizona Coyotes prospect Max Domi who stood out the most, as he collected a goal and two assists to lead Canadian scorers. Zach Fucale was put to the test in net, stopping 26 out of 30 shots, including some high-presure work in the dying moments.

In other tournament news, Slovakia beat Sweden 4-2 earlier today to win bronze, marking just its second medal in the tournament and the first since also winning bronze in 1999. Goalie Denis Godla won MVP; here’s the rest of the tournament MVP list, via the Globe & Mail’s James Mirtle: