Leafs fans deserve better: Carlyle

Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle instructs the team during practice at the MasterCard Centre in...

Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle instructs the team during practice at the MasterCard Centre in Toronto, Ont., March 28, 2012. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:18 PM ET

This was going to be the year the Maple Leafs turned the Air Canada Centre into a house of pain.

And it surely was — but for the paying customer, not the opposition. A seventh straight year out of the playoffs, this one punctuated by a club record 10-game home losing streak — witnessed a backlash rarely seen from blindly loyal blue and white supporters.

They were so vociferous about firing coach Ron Wilson earlier this month that general manager Brian Burke — or someone above him — was compelled to make the change. As the losses mounted and the switch to Randy Carlyle brought little relief, Burke started hearing his own name being chanted. During Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to Carolina that officially put the toe tag on the Leaf corpse, some bare patches of platinum, gold and red seats were evident, a bad omen for 2012-13.

With three home dates among five games remaining and his team already the butt of many jokes, Carlyle used part of Wednesday’s pre-practice time and a chunk of his media briefing to implore the club to look at their crest, play with some heart and give people at least something positive while pining through playoffs and another long summer.

“It’s a historic franchise and we’re somewhat embarrassed by what’s happened,” Carlyle said. “We talked about how passionate the fans are here and how much they give to the hockey club. The trademark of the Leafs is strong across Canada, in the U.S. and to a lot of degree, around the world. We’re very fortunate to have that.

“We have to understand there’s a higher level of responsibility from us to deliver more in these situations.”

While huge pro-Leaf crowds helped lift his team to wins in Montreal, Tampa and Ottawa the mojo hasn’t been working at home, where it should be most effective.

Winger Mike Brown would not discuss precisely what Carlyle harped on during the meeting — the dressing room lights went out for about 15 minutes when the Leafs were due on the ice — but vowed Thursday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers would not be mailed in.

“We have to find a way to get the wins in our building, even if it’s for next year to establish presence on home ice,” Brown said. “We’re obviously out of the playoffs now, so it’s about pride. Nothing else but pride now. We can’t be embarrassed. We have to go out there and win ... which we haven’t done the past 10 games.”

The Leafs have just one more home win compared to the road (17-16) and an equal number of losses (22 including overtime). Carlyle’s four wins are all on the road,

“We seem to play a more relaxed game, a more intense game, a more conservative game, whatever word you want to use,” Carlyle said Tuesday night. “We’ve been in more games on the road and found ways to get points. That has been the frustrating part for us as a coaching staff and I’m sure for management. We want to have a good home record. Our fans pay good dollars.

“I wouldn’t say (the ACC) is an easy building to take the crowd out of. But one thing we don’t seem to be able to have is that recovery from the first goal. We’ve scored the first goal in a number of games, but what happened (Tuesday) was reminiscent of some other games when we got blown out.”

After the Flyers visit, the Buffalo Sabres are here Saturday and the Lightning close the ACC cottage next Thursday.

“When things aren’t going well, you always plead to an individual’s pride,” Carlyle said. “All those catch-words come out. When you’re in the position we’re in, eliminated from the playoffs, there’s no way that this team or this coaching staff is going to throw in the towel and say ‘we’ll just relax the next five games.’ That’s not fair to anyone, the players, the fans or the coaching staff. We’re going to go to work on the staples of our game for the upcoming season.”

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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