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Underachieving Maple Leafs search for answers to snap skid

Tighten up defensively. Get back to creating chances in transition. Work harder. Find a bit of confidence along the way.

That sounds a lot like what the Golden Knights were saying during their month-long skid.

On Monday, it was the underachieving Maple Leafs going to that well in hopes of saving their season.

“Obviously, what we’re doing isn’t going good enough,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said following practice at T-Mobile Arena. “We’ve got to get a reset and get going in the right direction as fast as we possibly can. We’ve talked about the commitment we need to make to one another, to our sweater and do things right.”

The Maple Leafs (9-9-4) were one of the betting favorites to win the Stanley Cup at the start of the season but enter Tuesday’s game against the Knights losers of four straight and winless in their past five (0-4-1).

Their last victory came Nov. 7 when they defeated the Knights 2-1 in overtime at Scotiabank Arena behind 37 saves from Frederik Andersen.

Babcock, in his fifth season with the club, has seen his coaching seat grow warmer as a result of his team’s slump.

“I’m in a pretty good spot in my life,” Babcock said. “I’m going to do it as hard as I can, as long as I can. I’ve always bet on Mike Babcock, and I’ll continue to bet on him.”

Toronto hasn’t played since getting blasted 6-1 at Pittsburgh on “Hockey Night in Canada” on Saturday to start a six-game road trip.

Captain John Tavares and alternate captain Morgan Rielly met with Babcock afterward to discuss system changes and other ways to snap the Maple Leafs from their doldrums.

“It’s nice to get everyone in the same room and on the same page,” Rielly said. “We’re motivated. We want to turn things around. When we talk as a group, it’s important to understand it’s a big point in the season for us. It’s time to dig in and put the work in. We’re prepared for it. We know what’s at stake.”

The Maple Leafs are without right wing Mitch Marner, their second-leading scorer, for a minimum of three more weeks with an ankle injury.

Forward Alex Kerfoot (dental fractures) is out indefinitely and forward Trevor Moore (shoulder) was placed on injured reserve Monday. The team recalled forward Pierre Engvall.

Toronto allowed 23 goals in its past five games and ranks 23rd in goals allowed per game (3.41).

“This can really test a lot of things, not just about your play but just feeling good about yourself mentally,” Tavares said. “I think it’s just reinforcing the commitment that we have in here and the way we need to play and to one another.

“I think there’s no question that we have to be a lot better. We have to realize the areas of the game that are hurting us and if we don’t want to fix those, our results aren’t going to change.”

Babcock switched his bottom-two defense pairs at practice Monday, putting Justin Holl beside Jake Muzzin and dropping Tyson Barrie to the third pair with Travis Dermott.

Barrie has struggled in 22 games with Toronto after being acquired from Colorado in the offseason, and teams reportedly have inquired whether the 28-year-old puck mover is available in a trade.

Barrie, who has six assists and a minus-10 rating, will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer.

“Obviously with the contract stuff and whatnot, you put a little extra pressure on yourself,” Barrie said. “You don’t really feel it until things start to go poorly. I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t feeling it a little bit right now, but it’s 20-odd games in and it’s a tough stretch in my career. I’m looking to turn it around.”

More Golden Knights: Follow at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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