Leafs Randy Carlyle returns to Anaheim where he won the Stanley Cup in 2007

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle returns to Anaheim tonight for the first time since his dismissal on November 30, 2011. Carlyle’s tenure with the Ducks lasted more than six full seasons, and he enjoyed some success, including a Stanley Cup championship in 2007 and two trips to the Western Conference finals.

Despite being hired by the Leafs in 2012, this is his first full 82 game campaign behind the Buds’ bench, because last season was cut short by the third NHL lockout since 1994.

The Leafs have been competitive under Carlyle’s watch, posting a 66-49-16 record, while earning a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2013 – the first time the Leafs have qualified for the post-season since Pat Quinn was head coach back in 2003-04.

Carlyle was canned by the Ducks after a 7-13-4 start to the 2011-12 campaign. They had lost in the first-round the year before, and missed the playoffs altogether the season before that. Change was needed. However, since Carlyle’s axing, the Ducks have re-claimed their status as one of the NHL’s top clubs. This season – with Carlyle’s replacement Bruce Boudreau behind the bench – the Ducks boast the second best record in the league: 43 wins, 14 losses, and 7 overtime/shootout defeats.

Carlyle’s Leafs begin a deadly trip through California tonight in Anaheim. Eastern Conference clubs have struggled in Cali this season. The first place Boston Bruins managed only one victory in the Sunshine State back in January, as did the New York Rangers, who beat the Kings then took two beatings to close off their trip, losing to San Jose and Anaheim by a combined score of 15-2.

The offensively loaded Pittsburgh Penguins managed to split a recent two-game Cali trip, that included a 5-3 loss to the Sharks; a game where Sidney Crosby finished with a -5 rating. That’s the thing about the California teams: they are very big all ’round, and deep at centre. When the Sharks defeated the Pens, Crosby and his linemates had trouble containing Sharks captain Joe Thornton, and defenceman turned scoring winger, Brent Burns. The Leafs centres – often considered one of their biggest weaknesses – may spend a lot of time without the puck against California’s giants.

Sweeping the California teams in their own barns is unheard of these days, but the Leafs can realistically keep pace with their competitors if they take one of three on the West Side. For Carlyle, tonight’s game against the Ducks would be a nice one to win, if one victory is all they’re getting against in Cali.

When asked if he noticed anything different about the Honda Center, Randy Carlyle said the following: