TORONTO — Randy Carlyle understands why there’s been so much frustration in the stands at Air Canada Centre.
As the Toronto Maple Leafs prepared to open a three-game homestand against Carolina on Tuesday, the new coach said it was “unacceptable” that his team had gone more than seven weeks since winning a game in its own building.
“We have to demonstrate some more will, pride, passion, whatever — because this has gone on long enough,” Carlyle said after the morning skate.
“That was our message after practice yesterday: That it’s unacceptable to have the home record that we have right now.”
The Leafs last home victory came Feb. 6 against Edmonton.
Entering the game against Carolina, they had lost nine in a row at Air Canada Centre and tumbled right out of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Frustrated fans repeatedly booed the Leafs during poor performances over that stretch and loudly called for the firing of former coach Ron Wilson days before he was replaced by Carlyle on March 2.
Since taking the job, Carlyle has repeatedly talked about a lack of confidence in the team’s dressing room.
“You can see the nervousness in our players,” he said.
“What we’ve tried to do, and I’m probably an old school guy from that perspective, is say to them, ’Hey we’re the ones that are responsible for our record, we’re responsible and held accountable to our actions.’
“Now it’s time for us to make a statement.”
Only three NHL teams entered Tuesday night with fewer than Toronto’s 16 home wins — and not surprisingly they were among the handful sitting below the team in the standings.
The Leafs have struggled on home ice for the past couple seasons. They last won more than half their games in the building during 2006-07, when they finished 21-15-5.
Carlyle has identified that area as one that needs to improve and indicated Tuesday morning that it was up to his coaching staff to “find a way to motivate this group to play to another level.”
A lot will be demanded of the players even though the team is essentially playing out the string.
“When we go to work, we’re going to work,” said Carlyle.
“We’re not going to just put time in. I don’t think that’s what’s really called for here. I don’t think anybody that’s been in pro sports or team sports, when you’re in these situations, would let off the gas pedal.
“I don’t think that’s right. I think that’s an improper message to send to people.”