TORONTO – Mike Babcock had a sharp point to drill home, and he wanted to make himself crystal clear.
So, the head coach referred to the lists in his pocket, which he pulled from his suit pants and read aloud like a riot act from his post-loss podium.
“Let’s look right here,” he said, unfolding a game sheet and taking a breath before running down six stick infractions. “All right. Slashing, tripping, hooking, tripping, tripping, [hooking].
“You put your stick on the guy’s hands, you go to the box. So, when you go box that many times…”
You allow your opponent to tie the game on an unnecessary power play and win the thing on a penalty shot resulting from a Mitch Marner hook of a breakaway player, Gustav Nyquist, at the tail end of a greedy and gassed 3-on-3 shift.
Babcock didn’t stop at Monday’s 4-3, blown-lead overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, though.
Fed up with a weeklong trend, the heated coach unfolded more paper.
There was the Leafs’ penalty summary from Saturday’s OT win over Boston, in which the Bruins went 1-for-3 on the power play to Toronto’s 0-for-0: “Holding, tripping, hooking.”
And Wednesday’s 4-3 loss in Washington, in which the Capitals went 1-for-5 to Toronto’s 0-for-1: “Let’s have a quick look: tripping, tripping, interference, slashing.
“Put your stick on puck, not stick on hands.”
The argument the coach was building is not that the Leafs are being victimized by biased officiating, as the more partisan corners of the Twittersphere and the local crowd that serenaded Monday’s sudden defeat with spitty chants of “Ref! You! Suck!” would have you believe.
But rather that basics such as stick discipline, responsible shift length and learning from your mistakes should be a given if you fancy yourself a contender.
The Leafs sit at the bottom of the Atlantic Division and rank fourth-worst overall in both giveaways (115) and minor penalties (37), a couple carelessness categories.
“So, after a while, it’s nobody else. It’s own it and get on with it,” said Babcock, talking to reporters but really his skaters.
“You gotta mature and grow up as a group for that to happen.”
It would not be a stretch to assume the Leafs’ players had heard a similar speech directly from the adult in the room before boarding a charter to Boston.
Auston Matthews scored his eighth of the year, but he also stayed on the ice too long to effectively backcheck on the game’s deciding shift and lost his man on Pierre-Luc Dubois’ second goal of the game.
“That’s my fault there,” Matthews said.
Marner committed two hooking infractions and, despite his team-high 11 points, was a minus player for the seventh time in 10 outings.
Slouched and serious, the winger resembled a child who’d just been scolded when he fielded questions post-game.
Marner took ownership of Riley Nash’s opening goal and Nyquist’s winner away from goalie Frederik Andersen and onto himself.
“The goals that went in on him, they weren’t his fault,” Marner said. “We had our sticks in their hands. We had our sticks in their feet. Stuff happens.”
And his explanation for not making a line change and wearing the brunt of a risk-reward 3-on-3?
“Probably should’ve changed. Had seconds to do it. Probably should’ve got off, but I stayed out there,” Marner admitted.
Incredibly, in each of Toronto’s five losses this season, the Leafs held a lead at some point.
Stomping the throat has long been an issue, and the chief symptom is a lack of detail that, perhaps, comes with being the fourth-youngest club in the NHL — but isn’t to be condoned when you aspire to greatness.
Jake Muzzin is the only one in the room other than Babcock with a Stanley Cup ring. The defenceman, a plus-2 with a pair of assists on the night, held his head high and spoke with conviction postgame.
“No offence to [Columbus], but we did turnovers, we were spread out, we weren’t tight, we allowed them to get their forecheck going, and they got momentum and chances from it,” Muzzin said.
“We took penalties. It’s a recipe for giving goals up when you take penalties and turn over pucks and play in your zone. You can’t win like that.”
And then, with an eye toward Boston, where the winless Michael Hutchinson starts Tuesday, Muzzin made a promise.
He spoke the club’s objective aloud, at least hoping, maybe believing, it can become reality.
“We’re gonna play better defensively. We have to,” Muzzin said. “No matter what. No matter who’s in net. No matter what team we’re playing.”