Grading Randy Carlyle's Performance with Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013-14

James OnuskoContributor IIINovember 7, 2013

Grading Randy Carlyle's Performance with Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013-14

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    Randy Carlyle is one of the better coaches in the NHL and his Toronto Maple Leafs are off to one of their best starts in recent history.

    He has played the game at the highest level and was a great defenseman for several seasons. He was an All-Star defender and won the Norris Trophy in 1981. He understands the game well on a number of levels. 

    The former Toronto Maple Leaf draft pick has some work to do with his current club, but the Stanley Cup-winning coach has done a lot of good things with this year's Leafs.

    We will look at four separate categories and then give Carlyle an overall grade for his early-season performance.

     

    Unless otherwise noted, basic stats are from nhl.com

    Advanced stats, unless otherwise noted are from sportingcharts.com 

Managing Goaltending Duo

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    Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    Grade: A-

     

    While we can't give Randy Carlyle all the credit for the stellar play of both James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier, he can be credited with managing what could be a challenging situation for a lesser coach.

    Both goalies could lay claim to being No. 1 goaltenders, and yet there has been no drama exhibited by either goaltender to date.

    Carlyle has ridden individual hot streaks well; there have been no signs of a goalie looking fatigued or overworked at all.

    The Leafs are eighth in team goals against this year in allowing 2.4 per game. Their team save percentage is second in the league at .935. Is it likely unsustainable, but the odds of keeping it high are much greater when a team has two very good goaltenders versus just one.

    Bernier has played 10 games and Reimer has played seven. That ratio may stay the same, but Carlyle will not be slavish to this. Reimer has a .942 save percentage, so he will continue to get plenty of playing time under Carlyle.

     

Special Teams

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    Derek Leung/Getty Images

    Grade: A

     

    There are a few ingredients that go into successful special teams. The head coach and his assistants have more control over these systems than any other. Carlyle certainly deserves a great deal of credit here as the Leafs have played very well on special teams.

    The Leafs have 12 power-play goals and are the sixth-ranked team with a 23.5 percentage on the man advantage. The Toronto power play has been the difference in more than one contest this season.

    Toronto's penalty kill has also been very good. Their penalty kill percentage stands at 87.1 and is third best in the league. Granted, goaltending has been a factor here, but that is not unique to the Leafs. They have a good system and have executed well with speed and some unselfish play.

    Special teams have been particularly strong for the Leafs this season.

Offense

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    Graig Abel/Getty Images

    Grade: B+

     

    The Leafs have played an exciting brand of hockey. On many nights, the excitement has been at both ends of the rink which wouldn't please Carlyle who would like to see things tightened up. 

    In preparation for a recent game against Minnesota, Carlyle broached the fact that the team had to pay more attention to the defensive side of the game in a Toronto Star article. “They lead the league in holding teams to something like 21 shots per game (21.4), so that’s an outstanding stat from their perspective … and we have to pay attention to our game, not turn the puck over and allow them that advantage,” Carlyle said.

    While defensive play hasn't been great, the Leafs offense has been been very strong. The Leafs have scored 3.13 goals per game and stand seventh overall in the league. Carlyle has also found a nice balance up front with his top three scorers all scoring at a point-per-game pace or better.

    Carlyle allows players to be creative and encourages an attacking style. The Leafs have an outstanding transition game that yields a number of odd-man rushes.

    The team could increase its shot totals, without question, but with the high shooting percentage, they haven't had to so far.

Defense

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Grade: C-

     

    The Leafs have not been great defensively. While the goaltending has been exemplary, the Leafs have been hemmed in their own end for extended periods.

    The Leafs have given up 36.8 shots per game. This ranks them second last in the entire league. While some of these shots have been from the perimeter, the Leafs need to cut down on these chances against.

    The team has a number of young defensemen playing some significant minutes. Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner have played key minutes despite being relatively inexperienced, particularly in Rielly's case. He has averaged 17:49 minutes per game and he has been on the ice during some big moments.

    Mark Fraser's return from injury will allow for some flexibility and bring more of a physical and defensive element to the defense corps. 

    Defensive play has been the biggest area of concern for Randy Carlyle. Forwards and defensemen need to start working together more to gain puck possession quicker in their own end. Additionally, the team needs to start spending more time in the offensive zone to ease the pressure on the defense.

Overall Grade

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    Graig Abel/Getty Images

    Grade: B+

     

    The real test for the Leafs will come with two of their top three centers out with injury. Carlyle is experimenting with new lines and will need some players to step up their games.

    Nazem Kadri is one player who will have to show Carlyle that he is ready to become not just a good NHL center, but potentially a long-term superstar for his hometown team.

    In the grand scheme, Carlyle has done a very good job with the Leafs so far. A coach can't control all on-ice performances. Carlyle's expertise as a former Norris Trophy winner will continue to be called upon as he helps his young blueliners learn the NHL game.

    The Leafs continue to be one of the winningest teams in the Eastern Conference, and their coach can take a lot of credit for their start. Winning is the most important stat at the NHL level for a head coach, and Carlyle must be judged favourably here.