By: David Alter
BOSTON — Randy Carlyle meets the Boston Bruins for the second time as Maple Leafs Head Coach tonight at TD Garden.
Carlyle made his home debut as Leafs Head Coach against these Bruins on March 6th, a game where Toronto fell 5-4 to Boston. By all accounts, it was the best all-round performance by the Leafs against the Bruins the season, a series which Boston dominates 5-0.
“With us, we’ve made some areas of improvement” says Carlyle about the Leafs progress since that previous meeting. “There are areas we expect a level of improvement all-around. We’re better in certain small areas, be it stop-and-go and be it the power-play. As a coaching staff we expect better.”
The Maple Leafs have won their lasts two games, their first winning streak since their massive slide which put them out of the playoff conversation. With recent results involving the Capitals (keepers of eight in the East) as well as the recent Leaf victories, a Toronto win and Capitals loss could move the team to within four points of eight. More importantly, a win over Boston would lift the monkey off their back, with respect to the Bruins domination in the season series.
“I don’t think we’re in a position where we can say we’re using this game as a measuring stick” says Carlyle. “We have a template that we are trying to create that we’re trying to play to.”
James Reimer will make his fourth straight start in goal tonight. It’s also his first visit to TD Garden since he returned after six weeks absence due to a concussion on December 3rd.
“I thought we played well” Reimer said when talking about the last meetings between these two teams. “They’re a beatable team that’s for sure.”
The Bruins have been struggling as of late. They snapped a season-high four-game losing streak on Saturday, a span in which they gave up 21 goals.
“We felt like we played really well against Philly on Saturday and we want to carry that over into tonight’s game” said Bruins forward Milan Lucic. “I don’t think it gets easier (tonight) and I don’t think it matters what’s happened against this team earlier this season. We still have to approach it with the same mentality as we have in the previous games with them.”
Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien is also noticing changes within the Leafs game since Carlyle’s arrival.
“You’re starting to see Randy’s imprint on the team in different areas, even the forecheck and their D zone” said Julien. “Certainly it’s a lot to put on his plate in this short amount of time, but you can see it’s starting to change – his philosophies and his approach to the game is starting to show. That hasn’t been overlooked by our group here in watching them play lately.”
The Bruins find themselves in a battle with the Ottawa Senators for top spot in the Northeast division. Ottawa sits on top of Boston by a single point, while the Bruins hold two games in hand.
“Every team is battling for a certain position” said Bruins Captain Zdeno Chara. “Playoffs, home-ice advantage, you name it. Fighting for jobs next year, there is just so much importance in these types of games for any type of club.”
The Maple Leafs will keep the lineup the way it is. Cody Franson will be the only healthy scratch tonight.
Tim Thomas starts in goal for Boston.