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Babcock and Leafs still embroiled in feeling-out process one week into season

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TORONTO - During training camp, Mike Babcock re-taught and reminded his Detroit Red Wings of certain things. As coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Babcock has extended that process to the regular season.

The Leafs are 0-2-1 and making some progress, but there's plenty of work left to do as Babcock gets used to his players and vice versa. The biggest benefit is almost a week between games and time to hash that out.

"It's a lot better than what it was, that's for sure," Nazem Kadri said of the level of understanding between coach and players. "But I think there's definitely still some feeling-out to go on, and there's going to be some growing pains. But at the same time we know what's expected and what our identity's got to be."

Babcock said Tuesday that the Leafs have a long way to go but are trying. He kept his players off the ice because he didn't want them to practise four days in a row before returning to game action Friday at the Columbus Blue Jackets. But he didn't want them to have two consecutive days off, either.

That's because the results and the process aren't quite there yet.

"We lost three games and now we've got time to see and figure it out what's the problem," said Leo Komarov, at least temporarily the right-winger on the top line with James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak.

Kadri said the issues at this point are system-driven. The Leafs are still in their infancy of the Babcock system, and even after several weeks of training camp there's another step to take.

A practice week couldn't have come at a better time.

"Hopefully by the end of this week you're thinking less and just reacting more and just playing more," van Riemsdyk said. "Obviously everyone knows at this point the things that are expected of us, but just to do them naturally now, we'll get this week to really kind of hammer all that home and I think that'll be a good thing for us."

Hockey's so often a game of instincts, but it's also a product of habits. The Leafs were a turnover-prone team, especially late last season after their performance tanked, and Babcock has tried to install a defined structure.

Van Riemsdyk considers the Leafs' play as a five-man unit the best part of Babcock's system. The idea now, he said, is to hone the details so it's second nature.

The Leafs on Tuesday worked out and did a video session with assistant coach Andrew Brewer that focused on scoring. Babcock said his team gave up the most chances early in the season Saturday against Ottawa but did some good things offensively.

"We can't give up that many chances, we've got to be tighter," Babcock said. "On the positive side, we generated lots of chances and scored some goals, which is positive, so hopefully some guys will have gotten some confidence from that."

Confidence varies on a player-by-player basis. Babcock said he has been impressed by some and not so much by others.

That means the evaluation is still continuing, and players understand that.

"He wants a lot from the players, and he wants us to work hard," Komarov said. "Every day you come in here and you're trying to do your best and show him that you can earn a spot and play for this team."

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