TORONTO - The Toronto Maple Leafs players are taking the blame for back-to-back blowout losses as questions about the future of head coach Randy Carlyle swirl.
The Leafs were hoping for a bounce-back game Tuesday against Nashville after dropping a 6-2 decision to the lowly Buffalo Sabres over the weekend. However, Toronto came out flat and the Predators took full advantage in a 9-2 shellacking at Air Canada Centre, one of the Leafs' uglier defeats in recent memory.
"We support Randy and our job is to play," Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf told a throng of reporters Wednesday. "You guys obviously are going to ask questions and point fingers and that's part of playing in a market like this.
"And when we get beat the way that we got beat, us as players deserve to take the blame because he's not out there playing. The coaching staff is not out there playing."
Carlyle put the players through a spirited 90-minute session at the team's west-end practice facility. Carlyle and general manager Dave Nonis then held separate media availabilities and the first question for both was about the coach's future.
"Well no one was here after the Boston game when we were (on a) 6-1-1 (streak) asking about his job security," Nonis replied. "We haven't done a good enough job the last two games as a group — coaches, players, management.
"We've got some things to work on but we just need to get back to where we were a week ago."
Questions about Carlyle's future with the team started to swirl last season after the Leafs dropped 12 of their last 14 games to fall out of the playoff picture. New team president Brendan Shanahan was hired last April and Carlyle was signed to a two-year extension while three of his assistants were fired.
Carlyle, who has a 79-70-18 record over parts of three seasons as Toronto coach, previously spent seven seasons as a coach with the Anaheim Ducks.
He said questions about job security come with the territory.
"You're always in a position of doubt when things go awry with your hockey club," Carlyle said. "When you take these jobs, you can expect that. In this market it's a little more intense at times."
There were more reporters and cameras on hand than usual Wednesday as the latest blowout loss dominated sports media coverage in the city, with Carlyle's future a hot topic.
"It's easy to put blame on the coach," Nonis said. "It's the first thing that people talk about, the media, fans, whatever. As a group, we have to do a better job."
Toronto allowed three goals in the opening period against the Predators and couldn't get back on track.
"Last night was frustrating," Nonis said. "It's embarrassing as an organization to play that way at home. It's embarrassing to play that way on the road. But when you've got people that have paid to come and watch and you play that way, it's difficult to swallow.
"But you can't lose sight of the fact that it's one game. We have to move forward, we can't dwell on it forever. We have to address the things that we did last night — which I think there were numerous failings — and prepare for tomorrow."
It doesn't get any easier for the Leafs with Tampa Bay in town Thursday. The Lightning are in second place in the Eastern Conference standings.
The 9-8-2 Maple Leafs have dropped three straight games and are tied for seventh in the East.
"We're all in this together," said forward Nazem Kadri. "You can't point the finger at one particular person or coach or whatever the case may be. We win as a team, we lose as a team."
Defenceman Roman Polak echoed those thoughts.
"I don't think it's a coaching problem," he said. "It's us. It's here in the locker-room. We've proved that we can do it. We beat Boston, we beat Chicago, we had a good streak there and all of a sudden we just stopped doing it.
"So we proved that we can do it. We have to do it on a more regular basis."
Toronto will close out its homestand against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday before visiting the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday.
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