WWYDW: Responding to a Whopping

That was an ugly loss. Really ugly. I don’t have to walk you through it, because you already know. In the midst of a playoff race, the Leafs came out completely flat against the Florida Panthers and got hammered 7-2. I won’t say it was a ‘must win game’ because it wasn’t, but it was an important one.

The loss put the Leafs one point behind the New York Islanders for the final wild card seed, but it also gave the Tampa Bay Lightning an opportunity to slide ahead of them. It also leaves the Leafs four points back of the Boston Bruins for third in the Atlantic Division standings with only one game in hand.

Obviously you don’t want to lose games to teams like Florida who are behind you in the standings like that, especially when you’re playing Chicago, Columbus, Washington, and Nashville in the upcoming weeks. That wasn’t just a loss, it was a brutal one, and it was one that the team badly needed to increase their playoff odds in the increasingly competitive Eastern Conference.

So that leads us to this week’s question: If you’re Mike Babcock and the Leafs coaching staff, how do you handle a loss like that? How do you respond to the effort that was put out there in such a meaningful game? 

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Do you bag skate the team at practice? Do you shuffle the lines? Scratch somebody and bring somebody else in? Not let the guys go fishing and have fun on the beach from here on out? Or do you just let it slide, and allow the veterans to take over? And for players to let the feeling of being embarrassed like that sink in so they understand this isn’t something they want to happen again?

It wasn’t really expected this season that the Leafs would be competing for a playoff spot. It was assumed there would be a lot of ups and downs, streaks of excellent, exciting play, and terrible lulls of frustration, which is all part of the learning process for such a young team. It’s a delicate situation, but it also offers a major learning opportunity for a team with a bright future.

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    • Kevin

      I would finally put a veteran on the wing with Matthews. I would also consider rotating two of the following players in and out of the lineup; Leivo, Hyman, Soshnikov and Martin.

      JVR – Matthews – Brown
      Komarov – Kadri – Nylander
      Leivo – Bozak – Marner
      Hyman – Boyle – Soshnikov

  • Glen

    You have to do something about the D. That first pairing is absolutely dreadful. You can make all the excuses for them you want but you will not find a pair in the league worse at the moment. Mix the pairings anything nothing could be worse.

    • graves007

      That is a longer term issue, of which I’m certain mgmt is already aware requires addressing, not a response to a dreadful performance by the entire team.

  • Stan Smith

    I don’t think Babcock needs to do much of anything. The players all have pride, and it must have taken a big blow last night. I think you will see a much better effort, and a much better start to the game tomorrow night. Will they win it? Who knows. On the one hand the Lightning are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, and on a 4 game winning streak, but on the other hand they are playing their third game in four nights, with travel. The Leafs could take advantage of that. They need Matthews to break out of his funk, as well as Rielly and Zaitsev to be much better defensively. All the talk about changing the lines up, I think it might be time to split Rielly and Zaitsev up.

  • jimithy

    This lazy team has obviously been told to speak of the ‘team effort’ in the press scrum. This is insulting to the fan. In the post game interviews with Rielly, Bozak, JVR, Gardiner and Kadri, not one was man enough to admit to their astonishing errors and lack of effort. It was all about the team not playing well and that next game all will be corrected. But it was precisely because of their terrible hockey sense that the team got schooled. It wasn’t the whole team it was those guys. The ‘Waffle era 5’ leave their messy stains all over the ice once again. And then there’s Babcock who can’t figure why his team stinks.

  • Brent Wisken

    I think Babcock needs to show some accountability. He keeps mentioning the so-called lack of compete of the players, yet doesn’t take responsibility himself. People are way to hypersensitive when Babcock is critiqued. Apparently he is supposed to be handled with kid gloves, although he has been in the league a long time and gets paid a lot of money. Mainstream reporters ask him way to easy questions. Last year he was given a pass due to the lack of talent on the team, but not sure when reporters can start being reporters again. After all, it is their job. They can start by asking Babcock about some of his odd line-up decisions. For instance, his player deployment in three-on-three overtime is odd. So is his undying love for the Hyman-Matthews combination. They used to play well but there is no denying that the benefits have dried up. Not sure why Babcock can’t shake things up periodically, apart from his habitual switching back and forth of Nylander and Brown, and a bit of tinkering of the fourth line. The coach is such a creature of habit. Babcock claims Hyman gets Matthews the puck, but this hasn’t been happening lately. In February Matthews had 15 points (8 goals, 7 assists). Hyman was only involved in two of them (two assists). In contrast, Nylander was involved in seven of the 15 points, and Gardiner was involved in five of the points. Leivo was actually involved in two of them, yet clearly does not get the same amount of time that Hyman gets with Matthews. Meanwhile, Leivo is sitting in the press box, even though he is more skilled, is also hard on the puck and battles along the boards, and gets points. As for people’s claims that a couple of players need to be in the line-up due to their penalty-kill capabilities, keep in mind that the penalty kill has been struggling for the past month and a half. As such, the argument carries less weight.