TORONTO — No one is safe now. No one should be.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have played a whole lot of bad hockey since opening the Air Canada Centre in 1999, but never before had they surrendered nine goals against in a game here until Tuesday’s laugher against the Nashville Predators.
That is part statistical quirk, part trivia, but it also underlines just how putrid this really was.
It would be classified as an unimaginable performance even if it was a one-off. That it came directly after a 6-2 loss to the NHL’s worst team has placed Randy Carlyle’s future as head coach in serious doubt.
“You guys are going to discuss a lot — I understand that,” a remarkably serene Carlyle said afterwards. “As I’ve stated before, when you get in this business you better understand that when things don’t go well that there’s going to be a huge amount of scrutiny and attention paid to your position.”
It shouldn’t stop at just him, either.
Everything should be on the table for this organization and not just because of a couple bad games against the Sabres and Predators. After the last few years, there has to be real concern about whether this core group of players is capable of carrying the team forward.
When things got really bad on Tuesday, Carlyle said that he tried to appeal to the pride of the group. It didn’t work.
A 4-0 deficit became 5-0 just 53 seconds into the third period. Then it was 6-0 less than a minute later. On and on it went until the final buzzer mercilessly sounded.
“It’s an awful performance,” said Carlyle. “How can you sugarcoat what happened with our group tonight?”
Finding an answer to the most relevant question of all — why? — isn’t easy.
This is certainly not about compete level, no matter how fervently some might insist it is. The problems on display against Nashville were all about a lack of structure and a lack of execution and a lack of mental discipline.
“It feels like every time we get down a goal or two we’re trying to win the game in the next minute,” said veteran defenceman Stephane Robidas. “We start taking chances, we turn the puck over. We’re beating ourselves.”
While absolutely no one was expecting the Leafs to be a great team this season, there is no excuse for losing 9-2 on home ice in the NHL. Even the Sabres haven’t suffered that kind of indignity during a season where they’re hoping to finish 30th and draft Connor McDavid.
It could get really ugly here in the weeks ahead.
The Leafs play seven of their next eight games at home and the locals are understandably restless. Already this season the Leafs have lost four games at the ACC by three goals or more.
When things go bad they seem to go really bad for this team.
“We feel the pressure,” said defenceman Cody Franson. “I mean it’s tough not to hear the boos and see the jerseys thrown on the ice night after night. We have to try and do a better job of managing that in our room and keep the focus on solely hockey.
“But when things start teetering a little bit it’s tough not to hear that.”
The focus on the NHL’s most-watched team is bound to get even more intense now.
What president Brendan Shanahan and general manager Dave Nonis must be wondering is how things turned so sour so quickly. A week ago the Leafs beat Boston 6-1 and appeared to be making some strides.
Now it looks as if they are back to square one.
It is times like these where a front office usually wants to send a jolt through the team and make a statement to the fanbase about its direction. In some ways, the easiest thing to do is fire the coach.
Staying the course will certainly be no easy task — although most of the players seemed to be pleading for that to happen in the wake of the debacle against Nashville.
“We have to take ownership,” said captain Dion Phaneuf.
“We can’t be blaming the coach because we are playing awful out there,” added defenceman Roman Polak.
Franson was even more direct when the topic of Carlyle’s future got raised in a dressing room dripping with frustration. He didn’t hesitate for a moment when asked if the players were trying to get their coach fired.
“F— no,” said Franson. “That’s crazy. That has nothing to do with it.”
When Carlyle was hired in March 2012, he was often fond of saying that this group shouldn’t have to answer for the failings of an organization that stretch all the way back to 1967.
It was hard not to think about that statement on Tuesday night.
Over and over, we have seen this happen here. The frustration from the paying customers has compounded. It’s only natural.
Carlyle once played for the Leafs and considered this his dream job when he took it. That feeling was long gone as he saw the goals pile up from the Predators.
“You get a headache,” said Carlyle. “It’s a stress headache, that’s all it is. You get lots of them in this game.”
A little relief might be coming sooner than he’d like.
There’s no way an organization can endure a loss like this one and not at least discuss the possibility.