Tonight, at 7:00 pm, the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs will square off at the Bell Centre. The Canadiens are coming off a win over the Minnesota Wild, a game in which they played uncharacteristically physically. They almost lost the game, allowing 3 goals in the last 3 minutes, but thanks to a Devin Setoguchi blooper shootout attempt they walked away with 2 points the bank. But not to worry, the Canadiens remain in 15th place, inching ever close to Mikhail Grigorenko in bleu-blanc-rouge.
As for the Leafs, they seemingly have stolen the playbook of Mr. Gauthier and switched one unproductive coach for another. I was not a fan of Ron Wilson. He has never had much success, despite coaching in 1401 games in the NHL. He stagnated with San Jose, he stagnated with the Leafs and I never liked his style of berating players in the media. That being said, is the Leafs 7th straight year of missing the post-season Ron Wilson’s fault? I would point to the fact that they have the most expensive and unproductive 3rd line in the league – a rotating list of Colby Armstrong, Nikolai Kulemin and Matthew Lombardi. Their team leadership is Dion Phaneuf,
potentially probably the most overrated defenseman in the league, Colby Armstrong and Mike Komisarek. Oh, right. Those last two are often healthy scratches. Their goaltending is abhorrent – they believed in James Reimer and extended him on the basis of half a good year last season. As we’ve seen with Jaro Halak, one good stretch doesn’t make you an all-star. On the case of Jonas Gustavsson, he’s not the veteran backup that Reimer would need to push him. He’s great in stretches, then has a habit of letting in 3 deflating goals a game.
My point in all that? It’s not all on Wilson, the fact that the Leafs, a one-line team at best, were in the playoff picture for as long as they were was a miracle. Their success early the season, notably not in the stretch run where it counts, is a mirage. I can understand that Burke would fire Wilson, albeit a little too late, but replacing him with Carlyle is another stupid mistake. They replaced a sullen, angry, aggressive coach with one of the same temperament. One who will throw his players under the bus. One who in the past told Joffrey Lupul, now a key cog for the Leafs, that he didn’t have the talent to play LW in the NHL. A Randy Carlyle that after winning the Cup in 2007, never could get a relatively well-stocked Ducks team past the first round of the playoffs. So forgive my skepticism about how this new coach is better than the old coach. In my opinion, the Leafs, with such a young team, should have gone with youth – Dallas Eakins would have been a better choice.
So why is this blog called A Tale of Two Cities? And why have I spent most of it dissecting the Leafs? These two cities, though a month seemingly on polar opposites of the spectrum, have both fallen into disgrace. The Canadiens, once the hub of class and greatness, has made personnel and coaching moves that have bordered on unhinged on a good day. The Leafs, who were looking for a first post-season berth in 7 long years, have flamed out spectacularly, to the point where since 2012 began they have accumulated the least points in the league. Two cities that have irrevocably and unmistakeably disappointed their fanbases this season.
Now, as for the game. I predict 5-2 Canadiens. The Leafs will start strong but the Canadiens will relish pushing them farther away from a post-season berth. Small moral victories …
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