NHL

In a rut: Maple Leafs change up routine amid struggles

Head coach Mike Babcock did not hold a morning skate ahead of Tuesday night's game against the New York Islanders, citing his team's poor starts during a spell of six losses in eight games (2-4-2) as well a looming back-to-back with the Columbus Blue Jackets on deck Wednesday night.

Toronto has lost six times in eight games

Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the midst of the team’s worst losing stretch of the season. (Kathy Willens/The Associated Press)

The Toronto Maple Leafs are changing up their routine as they try to reverse their recent struggles.

Head coach Mike Babcock did not hold a morning skate ahead of Tuesday night's game against the New York Islanders, citing his team's poor starts during a spell of six losses in eight games (2-4-2) as well a looming back-to-back with the Columbus Blue Jackets on deck Wednesday night.

"We just thought it was the best thing for us," Babcock said.

The Leafs dropped a 3-1 decision to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday evening, going down 3-0 in the opening 20 minutes. The Sabres had two goals on the board before Toronto had even managed a shot.

Two nights before that, the Leafs were outshot 17-4 in the first period against St. Louis. The Blues went on to win 2-1 in overtime.

"When you're bad you earn the right to be bad," Babcock said. "We were bad at the start."

Cancelling the morning skate for the regulars — starting goalie Frederik Andersen did skate alongside the scratches — would seem to be an attempt to shift the routine in hopes of spurring a faster start against New York. The Islanders beat Toronto 6-5 in overtime last week and have earned 18 of a possible 24 points (8-2-2) under interim coach Doug Weight.

The Leafs (61 points) are only one point up on New York (60) for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

"You go through lulls, you go through ups and downs," said Toronto forward Auston Matthews, who leads the NHL with 10 game-opening goals. "But I think we just need to get back to doing what we know we need to do — playing our game, making sure we're playing our structure, not giving the other team space, not falling into the type of style that other teams are playing."

Tuesday marks the start of Toronto's 13th back-to-back set of 18 this season. The club is 8-2-2 in the first game and 4-7-1 on the second night.

In explaining the decision to not hold a morning skate, Babcock noted that both the Islanders and Blue Jackets were "heavy" teams.

More and more clubs have done away with a regular morning skate. The Blue Jackets, under head coach John Tortorella, have opted out of them entirely.

"I think it all depends on your team," Babcock said. "We got a bunch of young guys and we thought we were doing a real good job of being ready every night and obviously we haven't been quite as good here of late, even in some of those games that we scored in first weren't as good."

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