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Days after Brian Burke decided to stand pat at the trade deadline, the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager made a bold move firing head coach (and long-time friend) Ron Wilson on Friday.
Wilson had spent the past four seasons with the Maple Leafs. Under Wilson, the Maple Leafs best season was this past year, where he posted a winning record of 37-34-11. Over his four years with the Maple Leafs, Wilson has had a losing record of 130-135-45 overall. He had signed a contract extension with the club in December.
"This was not an easy decision for me to make," Burke said in a statement to TSN.ca. "I want to thank Ron for all of his hard work and dedication to our organization over the past four seasons."
With a recent stretch of one win in their last 11 games, and the team sliding down the standings at a pivotal point in the season, Burke had to do something to try and salvage the season.
"I’ve never had a team fall off a cliff like this in my life,” Burke said. “I’ve seen dips, slumps, rough patches, but this is akin to an 18-wheeler going off a cliff. I don’t know what happened. I’m bewildered by it. It’s like someone hit me with a two-by-four. I’ve never had this before where a team just plain, flat out goes into a free fall."
Enter Randy Carlyle, the 56-year-old former head coach of the Anaheim Ducks. Carlyle led the Ducks to a 7-13-4 record before being let go by the club earlier this year, although he remained with the Ducks in a scouting capacity. Carlyle was the head coach of Burke’s Stanley Cup-winning Ducks team in 2007.
"We felt this coach gives us a chance to salvage the season, and the way it was going, it wasn’t going to happen," Burke said. "Also, this saves us a month in the fall of a new coach coming in and putting in a system and getting to know the players.
The Maple Leafs currently 12th in the Eastern Conference, and have a heavy schedule starting Tuesday night vs. the Boston Bruins. They are three points out of a playoff spot after Sunday night’s action.
Boston Bruins: Tuukka Rask was injured in Saturday’s game vs. the New York Islanders. He did not join the team on their road trip. Andrew Ference missed both weekend games with a lower-body injury, while Daniel Paille was also injured in Saturday’s game and is day-to-day. Good news on the injury front however, was the return of Johnny Boychuck who missed two games with a concussion. With all the Bruins injuries, rookie forward Lane MacDermid made his NHL debut which included a fight vs. Michael Rupp. The Bruins dropped both their weekend games, while outshooting their opponents 58 to 42.
Buffalo Sabres: Cody Hodgson returned to Vancouver to play his old Canuck teammates on Saturday. He was held pointless and was a +1. It took one of the league’s best teams to solve Ryan Miller on Saturday night. Miller had posted back-to-back shutouts heading into the game vs. the Canucks before being scored on in the second period. The Sabres went on to win the game 5-3, with Miller turning aside 32 of 35 shots. Buffalo is riding a three-game winning streak heading into Monday night’s big contest vs. the Winnipeg Jets.
Montreal Canadiens: Scott Gomez and Aaron Palushaj were both absent from Montreal’s game vs. the Maple Leafs on Saturday. The forwards suffered individual eye injuries on Thursday vs. the Minnesota Wild. The Canadiens fell to the Maple Leafs 3-1 in the game. Carey Price faced 42 shots, while David Desharnais continues his point streak with a primary assist on the lone Canadiens’ goal. Louis Leblanc and Andreas Engqvist both dressed as injury replacements, with Engqvist being returned to the Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL) after the game. The Canadiens have lost eight in their last 10 games.
Ottawa Senators: Robin Lehner continued his sharp play on Friday night, turning aside 37 shots in a 2-1 loss vs. the Chicago Blackhawks. Erik Karlsson on Friday played in his 200th career game, but failed to record a point for the first time in eight games. On Sunday, the Senators blew a 2-0 lead in the second period to lose 4-2 to the Florida Panthers. Rookie defenseman Jared Cowen tallied his fifth goal of the season in the game.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Carlyle’s presence paid early dividends with a hard fought 3-1 Maple Leafs victory over the Canadiens on Saturday. Mikhail Grabovski scored his 19th and 20th goals of the season and added an assist in the contest. Looking for consistency in net, Jonas Gustavsson was solid turning aside 21 of 22 shots. Also part of the coaching shuffle, the Maple Leafs reassigned assistant coach Rob Zettler to another position with the club. Dave Farrish, who had spent seven seasons with Carlyle in Anaheim, will take over the club’s defensive coaching duties. Enforcer Jay Rosehill was put on re-entry waivers on Saturday, in an effort to bring him back up to the parent club.
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