TORONTO - Randy Carlyle knows two things after two games behind the bench of the Maple Leafs.
Fixing the club’s defensive play will take a lot more than two labour-intensive practices. And if they somehow move from 12th place to a playoff spot, they won’t want to meet the Boston Bruins.
A 5-4 win was the closest the Leafs have come to beating the division rival Stanley Cup champions in five tries, but the disturbing part in Carlyle’s home debut was how open the Bruins were on all their goals. Boston missed a few empty nets as well.
“In some defensive situations, we were there, but we weren’t strong on the puck,” Carlyle said of the big problem he inherits from Ron Wilson. “We had enough goals to win the game (four on Tim Thomas is a rarity), it’s the defensive aspect that needs to be improved upon.
“Everyone knew this team could score. If we demonstrated the will we did in the third period (a Mikhail Grabovski goal to move within one to tie and then two tense late-game power plays) ... The compete level is what is going to turn this hockey club around.”
Toronto’s coverage, which had modest success against Montreal on Saturday was torn apart, with Bruins standing alone for tap-ins on Jonas Gustavsson
Carlyle’s job of fine-tuning the offence took a hit when Joffrey Lupul suffered an upper-body injury on a hard David Krejci check in the second period and didn’t return. Lupul was joined by Colby Armstrong, whose nose was likely broken when bloodied badly in a fight that same period with Dennis Seidenberg.
Neither will play in Pittsburgh on Wednesday and with Mike Brown scratched by a hand injury against Boston, that could mean an emergency forward call-up to the Marlies.
Boston has out-scored the Leafs 28-10 in the five games with one to go March 19 in its barn.
“We had a shot (to win) and this is the best we’ve done against them,’ said defenceman Carl Gunnarsson, who electrified the Air Canada Centre in Carlyle’s debut with a first-period goal. “On a night like this, you’ve got to be first to the puck and read the play. We did it for 40 minutes, now we have to do it for 60.”
Grabovski, celebrating his new five-year $27.5-million US deal earlier in the day, brought the Leafs within one with a breakaway goal on Thomas. The Leafs had two power plays with five minutes to play after John-Michael Liles and Phil Kessel clicked with the man advantage, Kessel’s 33rd of the year on a five-on-three. But Lupul, who assisted on the Liles goal, was gone to the room shortly after.
Rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner was caught in the draft of speeding Bruins a couple of times, after Carlyle spent a great deal of time with the whole defence the past two days emphasizing speed and hitting to counter other clubs’ strengths. The Bruins would have none of it, stifling the Leafs’ jets in the neutral zone after the early Toronto success.
Nine of the past 12 Leafs games have seen Toronto give up four or more goals. Tyler Seguin and Jordan Caron scored twice for Boston, the Bruins brushing off a the Liles goal, the first second-period lead the Leafs have enjoyed in five games, to score twice in 1:05.
Kessel compounded a weak attempt to dump the puck by getting on the wrong side of the Zdeno Chara freight train as the big Boston captain roared through a gap the defence left, with Seguin eventually scoring. That was followed by another rush that went virtually unopposed, Chris Kelly sweeping in a Caron rebound with Gardiner unable to catch him.
There was a quick scoreboard recognition of the new coach and assistant Dave Farrish in the first period, with some applause, but no fuss.
Carlyle said he didn’t even give himself a moment to take in his first night at home after playing for the Leafs in the late 1970s, explaining the loss had not put him in a very good frame of mind.
But there wasn’t the hostile environment that might have ensued had Wilson still been behind the bench after being hounded by the crowd in his last appearance a week ago. General manager Brian Burke had said he didn’t want any more “cruel and unusual punishment” on Wilson as part of his decision to fire him on Friday.
Gustavsson will likely be replaced for Wednesday’s game in Pittsburgh by James Reimer.