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Leafs hash out their home woes

Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning battles against Kasperi Kapanen of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on October 10, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning battles against Kasperi Kapanen of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on October 10, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

When you keep getting beat, it’s time to meet.

And Friday morning’s off-ice agenda for the Maple Leafs was a long one, starting with breakdowns throughout the most embarrassing of three straight setbacks, 7-3 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then there’s the psychological damage of dropping a trio at home, beginning with last Saturday’s late-game letdown against the Habs and losses to the defending Stanley Cup champions and the Presidents Trophy-winning Bolts, two teams the Leafs think they can run with.

“We thought the meeting was more important than the practice,” declared coach Mike Babcock. “It was like a family discussion, just honest. The reality was we weren’t good enough and we showed the areas (via video) where we weren’t. “There’s nowhere to hide here and like any good family, you keep yourself accountable. The first thing is the coach didn’t do his job. We were up 2-1 with eight minutes to go in the first period, but we got rattled and didn’t keep digging in. Then it goes through your leadership group and everybody. We’re all involved.

“We didn’t have enough detail, enough battle, enough work. Any way you look at it, they were better than us and that’s unacceptable.”

While the Babcock Leafs have lost as many as four in a row in October, that was year one of his arrival when such slip-ups were expected. The re-tooled Leafs, with up to six new players and an offensive arsenal, aren’t supposed to give up five goals to Montreal late in a game or get pushed around in their end as the Bolts did with ease.

“You expect to have better efforts at home this time of year,” said alternate captain Morgan Rielly. “There’s no reason not to be fresh. We want to take pride in the way we play at home. That was not a game we look back at fondly, but we’ll apply the lessons and move forward.

“I don’t think you can point the finger at one thing, be it effort or execution – it’s both. You’d like to think it was dealt with last night in the room. You could tell that (in faces) and then it was talked about multiple times today. I would expect that would not happen again.”

Don’t dismiss the Red Wings as an easy mark for the Leafs at Little Caesars Arena. The teams split a close series last year, three of four encounters decided by a goal, two won by Detroit in extra time. The Wings have won three out of four this month, under new general manager Steve Yzerman and both road games in Nashville and Montreal.

Perhaps getting humbled will help the Leafs on Saturday.

“It can be eye-opening if you think you’re better than you are,” said new defenceman Tyson Barrie, a minus four against the Bolts and taking the full brunt of head-to-head domination by Steven Stamkos’s unit. “You go into a game against a team such as Tampa Bay and think you’ll trade chances, that’s not the recipe for success and we learned that the hard way.”

Barrie and Jake Muzzin have been together on the blueline since camp as have Rielly and Cody Ceci.

“With new faces, it will take a bit to get the chemistry – but there’s no excuse to get beat up like that,” Barrie said. “This is the NHL, it’s our job.

“You go back to the Montreal game, we let that one get away and it’s disappointing, but we had a good (one-goal) game against the Blues. Nothing like last night where we all came away bit embarrassed by that. they out-worked us in our own building and made us look silly. It wasn’t fun today at the rink.”

When the Leafs did practising, Babcock zeroed in on the penalty kill, which gave up two goals in the first period.

“We thought we got stuck in mud, didn’t do anything,” Babcock said of the unit.

“(Overall) the other team was hungrier, faster and better than us last night. We gave up chances we dodn’t usually give up.

“Maybe we were feeling so good about the way we played against St. Louis, we forgot to play last night.”

lhornby@postmedia.com

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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