Fast-fading Leafs test new coach vs. Habs
Desperate to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004, the Toronto Maple Leafs were fading fast and needed something to change.
That change came Friday with the firing of coach Ron Wilson, who will be replaced by former Anaheim Ducks coach Randy Carlyle.
Carlyle will make his debut Saturday when the Maple Leafs try to end a six-game losing streak in a road matchup with the Eastern Conference-worst Montreal Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET).
Sensing his new team is "very, very tense," Carlyle told reporters prior to the Leafs' morning skate Saturday that the coaching staff will try to instill confidence in the group in a short period of time.
He added Saturday is an opportunity for players to show a new face a first-time impression.
"Let's make sure you give me everything you've got, both on and off the ice, and there's going to be some adjustments that are required," said Carlyle, who met with the Leafs players for about one hour Friday evening.
"Tonight is the most important game of the season. It's about our first shift, it's about our first period, it's about being first on the puck, it's about getting the first bodycheck, creating the first scoring chance, drawing the first penalty. All those firsts have got to be front and centre with our group."
Wilson was dismissed in his fourth season with Toronto (29-28-7) after leading the team through a disastrous month that included a slide out of playoff position in the East.
"This was not an easy decision for me to make," general manager Brian Burke said in a statement. "I want to thank Ron for all of his hard work and dedication to our organization over the past four seasons."
Wilson's fate sealed
As recently as late January, the Leafs appeared well on their way to ending one of the league's longest playoff droughts. But a 1-9-1 skid starting Feb. 7 sent them tumbling down the standings to 10th place, five points out of a playoff spot, and sealed Wilson's fate.
Carlyle was coaching Anaheim before he was replaced by Bruce Boudreau in December. Burke hired Carlyle when he was with the Ducks in 2005, and Anaheim won the Stanley Cup in 2007.
The lack of a proven goaltender has been the Leafs' biggest problem.
Toronto seemed to be in the market for an upgrade in net heading into Monday's trade deadline. The Maple Leafs, however, decided to stick with Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer, and neither has shown much promise in the two games since the deadline.
After Reimer made 18 saves in Tuesday's 5-3 loss to Florida, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 34 shots in Wednesday's 5-4 defeat to Chicago. The latest loss was especially disheartening, considering the Leafs had a 3-1 lead in the first period after goals from Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and Clarke MacArthur.
"We got the start we wanted, and then let them back into it," defenseman Luke Schenn said. "A couple goals there that we shouldn't give up, not blaming the goalie, just everyone in general."
The Leafs have surrendered 26 goals during the six-game slide.
The Canadiens (25-30-10) handed Toronto one of its worst defeats of that stretch, a 5-0 drubbing Feb. 11. Reimer stopped 11 of 15 shots through two periods before being replaced by Gustavsson, who yielded a goal on three shots.
Habs have Monster's number
Reimer, who has a 4.37 goals-against average in losing his last four games, is 2-2-0 with a 3.25 GAA lifetime against Montreal. Gustavsson is 0-3-2 with a 3.76 GAA in his last five starts overall, and his .841 save percentage in three games versus the Canadiens this season is his worst against any opponent.
Carey Price stopped 64 of 65 shots to help Montreal win the last two matchups with its Northeast Division rival after losing two October meetings.
However, since making 32 saves in Toronto three weeks ago, Price has surrendered at least three goals in seven of eight starts.
The Canadiens allowed four goals for the third time in four games Thursday against Minnesota, with Price giving up three in the final 3:53 of regulation as their 4-1 lead disappeared.
David Desharnais saved them from what would have been a painful defeat, scoring the only shootout goal in a 5-4 victory to snap a five-game losing streak. Desharnais, who also had a regulation goal, has three goals and three assists in his last three games and leads the team with 50 points.
"It wasn't textbook but those things happen," coach Randy Cunneyworth said. "I'm just glad for the W."
Cunneyworth also was glad to see his power play finally show signs of life.
P.K. Subban, Lars Eller and Max Pacioretty all scored power-play goals, giving the Canadiens three in a game for the first time this season. They were 3 for 25 with the extra skater in their previous seven games.
Pacioretty's goal was his team-leading 26th, but only one of those have come in the four games against the Maple Leafs.
Phil Kessel, who leads Toronto with 32 goals and 68 points, has three goals and three assists in his last two visits to Montreal.