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.”

Hurricanes selling David Ayres shirts

David Ayres
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On Saturday afternoon few in the NHL knew the name David Ayres.

But after the 42-year-old emergency goalie was forced into action in an emergency role for the Carolina Hurricanes against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, he is the talk of the league on Sunday.

Ayres stopped eight out of 10 shots (and recorded a shot on goal of his own) in the Hurricanes’ stunning 6-3 win.

Now, if you want, you can buy an Ayres No. 90 t-shirt through the Hurricanes’ team shop.

The description from Carolina Pro Shop:

“Zamboni driver by day, emergency goaltender by night” David Ayres earned First Star honors and saved the day for the Canes in Toronto! Grab your t-shirt jersey to support the Canes’ newest legend!

The Hurricanes also add that Ayres will receive royalties from the sales, while a portion of the proceeds will go a kidney foundation. Ayres underwent a kidney transplant in 2004.

He entered the game after Hurricanes goalies James Reimer and Petr Mrazek both exited the game due to injury.

He has served as a fill-in goalie for the Maple Leafs during practices and has also dressed as an emergency backup in the AHL, where he also is a Zamboni driver for the Toronto Marlies.

The Hurricanes also announced that Ayres will be in Raleigh on Tuesday night to sound the siren before their game against the Dallas Stars.

Related: Hurricanes’ emergency goalie David Ayres beats Toronto Maple Leafs

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Golden Knights aim to stay hot vs. Ducks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and Anaheim Ducks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

To put things mildly, Vegas has been through some challenging times in 2019-20. Yet, after navigating many bumps in the road, the Golden Knights are heating up, and hope to keep that surge going against the Ducks on NBCSN on Sunday.

Golden Knights gathering steam under DeBoer

Honestly, it’s still kind of jarring that the Golden Knights fired Gerard Gallant. It sure didn’t seem like their struggles stemmed from bad coaching.

And yet … whatever the explanation might be, the Golden Knights seem like they’ve regained their swagger.

Now, it’s worth noting that the Golden Knights didn’t take off right away under Peter DeBoer. Their struggles extended from coach to coach, as Vegas suffered through a 4-7-2 stretch from Jan. 7 – Feb. 11. But now? Now they’re starting to look like the dangerous team many expected.

The Golden Knights have rumbled through some stout competition lately, beating the Blues, Islanders, Capitals, and maybe most impressively, the Lightning on Thursday.

They needed to make the most of a five-game homestand in Vegas, and they have, winning all of those games after they made the Maple Leafs’ Saturday a little less disastrous by beating the Panthers.

Sunday closes off a back-to-back set, and represents a rare road game. The Golden Knights’ Sunday NBCSN contest against the Ducks serves as a bridge between that five-game homestand and another four-game stretch in Vegas starting on Wednesday.

Golden Knights, Ducks approach trade deadline very differently

The Golden Knights and Ducks already rank as buyers and sellers, even if they’re done with their deadline dealing.

The Ducks may have sold a bit low on Ondrej Kase, particularly since they took on David Backes’ contract from the Bruins. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights already seem pleased with the addition of Alec Martinez.

“I thought he did awesome,” Jon Merrill said of Martinez’s debut, via The Athletic’s Jesse Granger (sub required). “He’s a veteran defenseman with a lot of poise in his own zone. He’s a great defender and blocks a ton of shots. You have to read the play, and it’s timing when to step into the lane. It’s definitely an acquired skill. I think the more you do it, the more you get a sense of when the shots are going to come. He’s done a great job at it his whole career.”

Get a glimpse of Martinez and the Golden Knights as they face the Ducks Sunday on NBCSN.

John Forslund and Brian Hayward will call the action at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Sunday’s studio coverage on NBC will be hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL on NBCSN: Blues looking to keep rolling, Wild aim to keep hopes alive

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blues and Wild are in very different situations, yet both teams have dealt with tumultuous times heading into their Sunday game on NBCSN.

Blues starting to heat up again?

Things were starting to look a little dicey for St. Louis. The Blues lost five in a row from Feb. 6-16, with a game against the Ducks postponed following Jay Bouwmeester’s health scare. Pulling back further, the Blues managed just two wins from Jan. 15 – Feb. 16 (2-7-3).

For some time, it looked like the Blues would cruise to a Central Division title despite Vladimir Tarasenko‘s absence.

Now the Blues are on an upward trend again. In dispatching the Stars 5-1 in Dallas, St. Louis is now on a three-game winning streak.

“The way the guys in front of me and [Jordan Binnington] have played the last four games has been pretty remarkable,” Jake Allen said, via the Blues’ website. “Scoring chances created, back-checking and blocked shots. It’s great to see.”

There are also positive vibes regarding trade acquisition Marco Scandella. Craig Berube provided a positive early review to how Scandella is working with Colton Parayko, as the Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford reported (sub required).

“He’s a big guy,” Berube said. “Plays physical, good defender, good stick. Two big guys out there that we can play against anybody, be hard on the other team, be hard on top players on the other teams. (Jay Bouwmeester) was there for a long time with Parayko. This is a similar fit that I see.”

Wild try to hang in there

Minnesota’s been through quite a bit in 2019-20, as well.

After quite a few instances where he seemed to be on the hot seat, Bruce Boudreau got the axe. Plenty of Wild players have wondered about their future, a thought highlighted by Jason Zucker being traded. Interim head coach Dean Evason has had his hands full in trying to keep the Wild in the West playoff hunt.

It still looks like a serious uphill battle, but the Wild have won two in a row. Jared Spurgeon‘s hat trick was the highlight of a frenetic 5-3 Friday win against the Oilers.

“We had a real scramble-fest going there in the third period,” Evason said, via the Wild website. “But guys were committed and it didn’t really matter who we called up, they just played and played the right way. It’s very encouraging.”

With all of that in mind, will it be the Blues or Wild who end Sunday’s NBCSN game feeling encouraged?

Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Xcel Energy Center alongside analyst Pierre McGuire. Sunday’s studio coverage on NBC will be hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Capitals host Penguins on NBC

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NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The top two teams in the Metro Division will meet for the second time this season. In their first matchup, the Penguins opened a 3-1 lead and held on for a 4-3 win.

When the Penguins and Capitals met on Feb. 2, Pittsburgh trailed Washington by six points in the Metro Division. February has treated these rivals quite differently. While the Pens have been solid this month, the Caps are 2-6-1 in February – the worst record in the NHL in that span.

In Saturday’s 3-2 loss against the Devils, Alex Ovechkin scored in the third period to collect his 700th career goal. He became just the eighth player in NHL history to reach the milestone. Ovechkin needs nine goals to pass Mike Gartner for seventh on the all-time goals list. He is 195 goals away from passing Gretzky for most in NHL history.

The Capitals enter Sunday on a season-worst 4-game losing streak (0-3-1). The last two losses have been particularly disheartening, as Washington fell to Montreal in OT and New Jersey in the final minutes – two teams that are far back in the playoff race.

This marks the first game of a four-game road trip for PIT. After playing in the nation’s capital Sunday, the Penguins will play three games in four days in California (LA on Wednesday, ANA on Friday, SJ on Saturday). Pittsburgh is 15-11-2 on the road this season.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 P.M. ET ON NBC]

WHAT: Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals
WHERE: Capital One Arena
WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 23, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Capitals-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PENGUINS
Jason ZuckerSidney CrosbyDominik Simon
Bryan RustEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist
Jared McCannTeddy BluegerBrandon Tanev
Anthony AngelloAndrew AgozzinoSam Lafferty

Jack JohnsonKris Letang
Marcus PetterssonJustin Schultz
Zach Trotman – Chad Ruhwedel

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson
Jakub VranaNicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerRichard Panik
Brendan LeipsicNic DowdGarnet Hathaway

Brenden DillonJohn Carlson
Michal KempnyDmitry Orlov
Jonas SiegenthalerNick Jensen

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk, and Brian Boucher will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington D.C. Sunday’s studio coverage on NBC will be hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury.