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Maple Leafs improvement up to 'everyone' in organization, GM says

Dubas won't hold Babcock solely responsible for Toronto's sputtering start, winless streak

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Kyle Dubas said any potential turnaround for the Toronto Maple Leafs rests with the entire organization, not just coach Mike Babcock.

"We collectively have to pull our way out of this so that involves everyone -- that's myself in management, our staff, the players and coaching staff alike," the Maple Leafs general manager told at the general managers meetings Tuesday. "We've all got to find our way through and continue to analyze that and how we can all help each other."

Babcock, in his fifth season behind the Maple Leafs bench, has heard recent rumblings about his job security. A 4-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday, which extended Toronto's winless streak to a season-long six games (0-5-1), only made it louder.

When asked if Babcock were on shaky ground, Dubas was noncommittal, but said he's aware of the calls in the press and social media to make an imminent move.

Video: Fleury, Stone lead Golden Knights to 4-2 victory

"I think everybody has their opinions on what the team should do, especially here," he said. "I think there's a very knowledgeable fan base here and a deeply passionate fan base. They have high expectations for us and we have high expectations for ourselves. Whenever things don't meet the standards that everyone expects for the team, externally people start to develop reasons as to why. And at the same time we're not happy when we don't reach that standard, either. 

"Right now, the way things have gone, people are looking internally at us for the answers and we're trying to make sure we deliver what we're capable of."

Dubas said he expects those expectations to be met.

"I think I will be disappointed if in the coming days, weeks, we don't begin to show a greater resolve and strength and fortitude to get back to playing the way that we've shown even earlier this season, and doing that for 60 minutes and doing that for days and months at a time," he said. "That's what we think our capabilities are."

In addition to Babcock, defenseman Tyson Barrie is the focus of the fan base's ire. 

Barrie, acquired in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche on July 1, committed a turnover that led to a goal by Golden Knights forward Tomas Nosek that put Vegas ahead 2-1 at 8:08 of the third period. The goal came 42 seconds after Toronto forward Jason Spezza tied the game and siphoned any momentum the Maple Leafs had gained from it.

Video: TOR@VGK: Nosek steals puck and nets backhander

Sportsnet reported Saturday that teams around the NHL have contacted Toronto about Barrie's availability. But Dubas said the Maple Leafs will be patient with the puck-moving defenseman. 

"I think the reality is, especially when you have a player with a long proven track record, I think you can make some major mistakes by being hasty and not trying to dig in to what you're seeing on video, what you're seeing in games, what you're seeing via data or finding out from the player how they feel," he said. "You've got to dig into those aspects to try to find a solution to get that player to play to their potential."

Barrie had 59 points (14 goals, 45 assists) with the Avalanche last season but has seven (all assists) in 23 games with Toronto.

He's not the only one who has been struggling.

Center Auston Matthews has gone nine straight road games without a goal.

Captain John Tavares admittedly took an ill-advised hooking penalty less than two minutes after Nosek's goal and was in the box when Golden Knights forward Mark Stone scored what would be the game winner at 10:22 of the third to put Vegas up 3-1. The Golden Knights power play went 2-for 2 against a Maple Leafs penalty kill that has allowed a goal in 13 of the past 16 games.

The winless skid began with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 9, the same game forward Mitchell Marner sustained an ankle injury that will keep him out of the lineup at least another three weeks. Marner is second on Toronto in scoring with 18 points (four goals, 14 assists) in 18 games.

Video: PHI@TOR: Marner leaves with injury in 2nd

The Maple Leafs have allowed the opening goal in eight straight games and 18 of the 23 they've played. 

That's on the coaches and the players. But as Dubas pointed out, there is accountability on management as well.

Pressed up against the NHL Salary Cap, Toronto has little wiggle room to bring in outside help. Management invested heavily in a skilled, high-scoring roster that too often hasn't been that. 

It doesn't get any easier for the Maple Leafs; next up is a game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; FS-A, FS-A PLUS, SNO, NHL.TV). The Coyotes have allowed the second-fewest goals in the NHL (49).

Picked by many in the preseason to be a Stanley Cup contender, Toronto (9-10-4) is 10th in the Eastern Conference with 22 points and has not won since defeating the Golden Knights 2-1 in overtime at Scotiabank Arena on Nov. 7.

"Going into the year the expectation was that I was looking forward to see how our team would respond to this type of adversity," Dubas said. "And when we did hit a stretch where we lost a number in a row, one of the key parts of the year I was looking to is: How we would respond as a group? 

"Obviously right now we're in the midst of it, so it's a great time to ask the question."

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