Under normal 82-game circumstances, maybe the eve of the third game of the NHL season might not have been the ideal time for a coach to begin issuing public callouts of players not performing to his liking.
Maybe Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle was being a bit rash insisting that Mikhail Grabovski, his Belarusian forward with a reputation for diligent hustle, required "more fire" in his game. Maybe Carlyle was a touch quick on the trigger by offering a for-the-record lecture about the merits of wreaking havoc in front of opposing goaltenders — and for pointedly demanding that James van Riemsdyk, his six-foot-three winger, stand in front of the net or sit quietly on the other side of the boards.
Or maybe Carlyle's words hit precisely the right notes in preparing the Leafs for their finest performance of a season not yet a week old.
We know this much — the Leafs beat the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night by a resounding score of 5-2. And certainly there'll be those heralding Carlyle for his player-prodding masterstrokes.
Sure, it could have been a coincidence that van Riemsdyk scored his first two goals as a Maple Leaf, including the winner. If the player bristled a bit after he heard about Carlyle's front-of-the-net direction in the wake of Tuesday's practice — van Riemsdyk informed reporters he can score from a variety of locales, the goalmouth being but one — it's worth noting that one of his markers came as his skates veered into the blue ice that marks the Pittsburgh goal crease.
Let's call that a message received.
And maybe Grabovski would have notched the goal that gave the Leafs a 4-2 advantage no matter what the coach told the media after Wednesday's morning skate.
But "more fire" was Carlyle's demand, and even if Grabovski had turned up his nose when it was relayed to him — "More fire? I think I have enough fire," he said — you could almost see the flames coming off the blast Grabovski buried behind Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Let's call that a button successfully pushed.
Whatever you call it, what's undeniable is that three games into a lockout-shortened 48-game schedule that leaves far less room for early hiccups than the usual 82-game odyssey, the Maple Leafs have two victories.
Toronto Maple Leafs defeat Penguins 5-2 in Pittsburgh
Toronto Star | Jan 24