Carlyle’s disciplined style key to Leafs success

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At the start of this season, noise was made that the current Leafs roster would be ill-equipped to serve under Randy Carlyle’s tough-nosed, nasty, defense-first style of play.  That there was not enough team truculence to compete.

Despite the team placing 3rd in the league in fighting majors with seven, the club has been shorthanded a surprisingly low 23 times (3.29 penalties per game), fifth least in the league thus far.  It’s quite early still, but the disciplined play is a stark change for a team coached by Carlyle.  And that’s all for the better.

Some interesting initial penalty killing numbers quickly leap off the page when looking at Randy Carlyle’s Anaheim Ducks teams.  I took a look at a 5-season sample, starting from the Ducks’ cup-winning 06/07 to the 10/11 season.  Despite the belief that Carlyle’s teams were staunch defense-minded clubs, they actually gave up a ton of goals down a man, averaging 66.4 power play goals against (11 more than the Leafs allowed last season with the 28th ranked PK).  The PK percentage over the same period was 81.7% (which would have been good for 19th overall last season), decent but hardly impenetrable.

Historically, Carlyle teams play a prolifically undisciplined game.  They were shorthanded an average of 366.4 times per season, or 4.47 times per game.  Interestingly, his teams ranked 15th, 1st, 4th, 6th and 10th (sequentially) in number of times shorthanded league-wide.

Contrast that with our more recent numbers, the Leafs are on pace to be shorthanded 269 times over an 82-game slate, a reduction of almost 100 penalty kills from Carlyle’s teams’ annual average.  It’s still early in the season, but this should be seen as incredibly promising.

Put another way, the Leafs were shorthanded 242 times during the 11/12 season and had a PK percentage of 77.3, surrendering 55 power play goals.  Factoring in Carlyle’s modest 5-year average of 81.7% on the PK, the Leafs would have given up almost 6 fewer goals while taking 27 more penalties last season.   That same formula pro-rated to this 48-game season would see a 3-goal reduction.

It comes down to common sense.  Carlyle might want to play guys like Mark Fraser, Mike Brown (when healthy), Colton Orr and the newly acquired Frazer McLaren more, but he can’t.  They will hit, they will fight and they will bleed for Carlyle, but they are too unreliable as hockey players to play in anything but a limited role.

Add to that the fact that the Leafs seem to be rolling three adept scoring lines that have brought an end to Carlyle’s more riotous brand of hockey.  There’s less bite to the team than Randy might want, yet the Leafs have a winning record and allowed 2 or fewer goals in four games already.

That might not sound like much, but any reduction in the number of goals this team coughs up would be a monumental shift in the right direction.  Carlyle might not have the right players to play his game, but with some restraint and adaptation, that might just keep this team a winner.

Friday morning links…

Take a peek at Alec’s Game in 10 from last night’s come from behind win.

Michael at VLM staunchly defends Etobicoke’s pride, joy and saviour, Mike Kostka.  I think Leaf Nation has maaaaybe made too big a deal out of AHL graduate’s performance.  On the other hand? I can’t stop laughing at this

Cam Charron wants you to calm down about Phil Kessel.  Amen.

Take another look at Matt Frattin’s incredible game winner from last night.  Is this what patience with prospects looks like?  I didn’t know it would be so beautiful