In Olden Tymes, a Leafs-Senators tilt on St. Patrick’s Day would have been an entirely different scene.
Sure, the green beards and the Sens-Leafs fan spats seem familiar enough, the booing of Daniel Alfredsson a recurring sacrilege, but otherwise the standardbearers are gone. On the day of the game, Pat (The Mighty) Quinn, the big Irishman himself, would have regaled us with expansive yarns on growing up as a not-so-wee lad in Dublin, er, Hamilton, Ontario.
Given the levity of the occasion, even the more staid Jacques Martin might have offered a small joke and a bigger grin. Then the Leafs and Senators would have played and scrapped, Tie Domi, Chris Neil, Darcy Tucker, Zdeno Chara and Bryan McCabe would have fought, literally, for the last laugh on the night.
Saturday was “alright for fighting” as the song played at Scotiabank Place, but Sergei Gonchar vs. Scott MacArthur?
Boy, you’ve changed, B of O. Not only have most of the central figures in the on-ice drama moved on for two rebuilding teams, the Leafs are now three coaches removed from Pat Quinn and the Senators are five coaches past the hour of Jacques Martin.
On the day of the final meeting of the season between the Senators and Leafs (sigh, no playoff series potential here, folks, given the Leafs standing), incoming head coach Randy Carlyle was making his first visit to Ottawa in a blue and white track suit while Paul MacLean was looking ever more comfortable, six months on the Senators job.
Both spoke on the Battle of Ontario rivalry, Carlyle, as the ex-Anaheim Ducks coach, having viewed it from afar, but conceding it is rich fodder for the respective fan bases, something the league should embrace.
“It’s the way the game should be played,” said Carlyle. “It’s the way the two cities and the two hockey clubs should be prepared to battle one another.”
Gonchar and MacArthur got the memo.
So did Chris Neil and Mikhail Grabovski (?) mixing it up in the second period, while Nick Foligno and Luke Schenn also danced.
The nature of that battle has been altered considerably, as MacLean noted, responding to a reporter’s question of why Ottawa scrappers like Matt Carkner and Zenon Konopka wouldn’t be in the lineup, you know, duking it out as in provincial battles gone by.
“The games haven’t been as truculent as they might have been in the past,” MacLean said, toying with a famous phrase of Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke. “The game seems to be more of a skill-based game.”
MacLean would certainly love to take his team in that direction. He comes from the Detroit Red Wings organization, which practically wrote the book on playing a skilled brand of hockey, with nary a goon in sight.
Carlyle, though, is a different breed yet again. With the Ducks, he oversaw
a big, physical group that wasn’t opposed to dropping gloves and spilling blood. In 2006-07, when Anaheim won the Stanley Cup, with Burke as GM and Carlyle, coach, the Ducks led the league in fighting majors.
How that translates to Carlyle’s imprint on the Leafs next season and thereafter isn’t clear. Coaches coach the roster they have, and as much as Burke might have spoken of “pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and beligerence,” his lineup isn’t particularly well suited to it.
Come to think of it, sitting perilously close to the Eastern Conference basement, the Leafs aren’t suited to much that translates to winning consistently, even if they continue to give the Senators fits each time they meet.
Burke has some work to do.
For now, just two weeks on the job as Ron Wilson’s replacement, Carlyle’s immediate cause is teaching and coaching the gang he’s inherited. Media who travel with the club have noted the up-tempo Leaf practices, even on the morning of a game, a trait of Carlyle’s Ducks.
“In drills, we emphasize puck movement,” Carlyle says. “We emphasize — don’t turn your back on the puck. We emphasize stop and go hockey. If they do it in practice, we believe that eventually it will come naturally to them in the game.”
Carlyle was patient with reporters, explaining his philosophies long after the scrum cameras peeled away. He smiled easily. None of this was familiar to media who covered Wilson’s tenure in Toronto.
The differences don’t end there. Carlyle is more of a stickler for . . . just about everything. Details. Pursuit of perfection. They’re part of Carlyle’s lexicon.
“Let’s be fair to Ron Wilson,” Carlyle says. “The guy’s coached 1,400 games in the league, it’s not like he didn’t know how to coach. The things that are important to me, in the situation I was presented with, are a little bit of a change from what he had.
“I take a different approach to it, as he takes a different approach. Here I am, a coach that was let go in Anaheim and Bruce Boudreau takes a different approach in running that hockey club.”
The Leafs have changed mightily, as have the Senators. In time, the Battle of Ontario should bear the fruit of these seeds.