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Babcock responds to critics during Maple Leafs scoring struggles

'They hired me to decide,' coach says after 12 goals in six games

by Mike Zeisberger @zeisberger / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock on Wednesday responded to the second guessing of his recent roster and lineup tactics.

"This is how I look at it: They hired me to decide," Babcock sternly told reporters after practice.

"You get to decide what you react to. If you let the noise get in the way … can you imagine if every time someone in your life told you that you couldn't do it, you listened to them? Where would you be?"

The Maple Leafs (25-17-4) are third in the Atlantic, 11 points ahead of the fourth-place Detroit Red Wings, who have two games in hand, for the final guaranteed Stanley Cup Playoff berth from the division. But Toronto hasn't won in regulation since defeating the Arizona Coyotes 7-4 on Dec. 28.


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Toronto is 2-3-3 since then, with the two wins each in a shootout. After a 2-1 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday ended a six-game homestand 2-2-2, fans and media voiced concerns.

The most popular protest related to Babcock's perceived stubbornness in maintaining his line combinations. At practice Wednesday, the top three units remained intact: Auston Matthews between Zach Hyman and William Nylander; Tyler Bozak centering Mitchell Marner and James van Riemsdyk; and Nazem Kadri between Patrick Marleau and Leo Komarov. The only difference from the game Tuesday had Dominic Moore at fourth-line center, instead of Frederik Gauthier, between Connor Brown and Matt Martin.

With Toronto scoring 12 goals on the homestand, there was local talk-radio chatter that third-line wing Komarov and third-pair defenseman Roman Polak should be replaced by younger, more skilled players. Komarov led Toronto forwards with 19:44 of ice time Tuesday.

But Babcock, whose eight-year contract runs through the 2022-23 NHL season, said Komarov (four goals in 46 games) and Polak (two in 27) bring an edge required for a defensive-minded system that is needed to have postseason success.

"We can move guys around if we feel it's going to help us get better," Babcock said. "I just think when I look at our last couple of games, I think that we're in a good situation. I don't feel like you (media) guys do, not one bit, but when I do, we'll change some things.

"I think, the better teams play defensively, the more you shoot to break them down. It creates more randomness rather than thinking pretty plays are going to be there."

Kadri has one point in 17 games, Marleau has none in six, Marner has two in eight, and Matthews has two in six heading into a road game at the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, NBCSP, SNO, NHL.TV).

"We've created a lot," van Riemsdyk said. "We have a lot of skill in here. There's a lot of ebbs and flows in a season. You have to find a way to win even when the puck isn't going in."

Asked why he thinks the existing lines should remain intact, van Riemsdyk said, "Just the familiarity with each other. Just working through it makes you that much better."

Marleau, in his first season with Toronto, won two Olympic gold medals with Babcock for Canada (2010 Vancouver, 2014 Sochi).

"He wants the best and expects the best," Marleau said. "You can call that stubborn if you want."

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