Head of the class
In a showdown of the league's only two rookie coaches, Guy Carbonneau got the better of Jim Playfair.
MONTREAL - It has been over 25 years since anyone could say this about Guy Carbonneau, but he's once again a rookie only this time behind the bench. The Flames have a freshman coach of their own who, like Carbonneau, did not have to wear a name tag his first day on the job.
Carbonneau's smooth transition to the head coaching ranks was in part thanks to his time spent as an assistant coach with the Habs from 2000-01 through 2001-02 and his stint as an associate coach under interim coach Bob Gainey last season.
"Getting to know this group as well as I did last season has made my job that much easier," said Carbonneau. "It allowed me to really hit the ground running right from the start of training camp. We were able to jump right in and get to work rather than have to get to know one another the way any other new coach normally would."
Flames coach Jim Playfair knows his way around his dressing room, with the former NHLer having been an assistant coach with Calgary for four years prior to his being named head coach this past summer.
"These players know what we've been trying to build here over the last couple of years," said Playfair of the Flames, who did come within one game of winning the Stanley Cup in 2004. "We're striving to re-create the identity of this franchise and I know what these players can do."
The man who handed over the coaching reins to Playfair this summer did so for a reason.
"Jim has been coaching for a long time and he knows what needs to be done," said Flames GM and former coach Darryl Sutter. "I think Jim having been an assistant with this group is going to be a bigger help to the guys than the other way around. They all know where he's coming from and where he wants to take this team and that's what it's all about.
"You see it right here in Montreal with Carbonneau," added Sutter. "He's come right in here and his players have responded immediately."
Having the opportunity to get their feet wet before taking over as head coach isn't the only thing Playfair and Carbonneau have in common. The newbie head coaches are also the lone coaches among the league's first-year bench bosses to not already have another NHL gig on their resumes. Dave Lewis (Bruins), Paul Maurice (Maple Leafs), Claude Julien (Devils), Ted Nolan (Islanders) and Alain Vigneault (Canucks) are all coaching their second NHL team, while Marc Crawford (Kings) is now up to his third coaching stop.
Following Tuesday night's 5-4 victory over the Flames, Carbonneau (3-0-2) remains the only first-year coach yet to lose in regulation, and also co-leads the NHL's new coaching class along with former Habs coach Alain Vigneault with eight points to start the season.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com