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Mitchell Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs chased the puck in the against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place on Jan. 16.Lawrence Scott/Getty Images

One can tell that things aren’t going well in Maple Leafs land. We usually have to wait until the postseason but here we are at barely the halfway point and some of them have already begun to lash out at imagined enemies such as the ruthless barbarians in the media who are mostly kind when they are playing well but ask harder questions when they are not.

This time-honoured tradition is not unique to Toronto’s hockey club but professional sports teams in general. They often use their own struggles as a rallying point. It is the “us-against-them” mentality. If you can throw in something about adversity all the better.

On Tuesday the Maple Leafs were ahead in the third period for the fourth game in a row – and lost for the fourth straight time. In this one, they led the Oilers 2-0 only to allow four unanswered goals. At 21-13-8 they are now closer to falling out of a playoff position than they are to the Bruins and Panthers, the top teams in the NHL’s Atlantic Division.

While fellow Canadian teams are in the midst of impressive runs – Edmonton has won a franchise-record 11 in a row, Winnipeg nine of 10 and Vancouver continues to lead the Pacific – Toronto is in a funk. It has won only five of its past 14 games and four of those victories were over Anaheim, Columbus and the sad-sack San Jose Sharks twice.

“We are a great hockey team and we have to ignore what everyone else says,” Mitch Marner said after the 4-2 loss to the Oilers. This refrain, while a bit early in the calendar, sounds familiar. “We show it every night. In these last four games we’ve had leads and have played some awesome hockey. Stuff goes your way sometimes and other times it doesn’t.

“No frustration is seeping in but I think a lot of people on the outside are trying to do that. That’s how it goes for us.”

Perhaps there is a conspiracy against the Maple Leafs. Or maybe it is that they keep blowing leads and have begun to feel some pressure within. If they are not, they should be.

After a terrible start, the Oilers now have three wins more than them. The Penguins and Coyotes also have 21. The snowed-in Sabres in Buffalo have only two fewer.

There is not a lot of evidence to offer that Toronto is great. It is blessed with four or five elite players and a bunch of other guys. Not really much of a team per se.

The Maple Leafs have road games coming against the Calgary Flames on Thursday, the Canucks on Saturday and the Seattle Kraken on Sunday. After that they play the Jets twice. There could be more turbulence experienced with such a schedule.

“We are playing well for periods of time,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly. “We’re good. We are a close group. We are motivated. There are good things happening. We are not down in the dumps at all.”

Die-hards, accustomed to such slumps, will agree that this is a great learning opportunity. Others will see it as just the Maple Leafs being the Maple Leafs.

“I don’t care about the good things they are doing,” Craig Button, the TSN analyst, said Tuesday night. “Every team does some good things in a game. You know what? It’s not good enough. That’s the bottom line.

“This is my message to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ faithful: You can’t handle the truth. It is as simple as this. You want people like me to come up here and tell you how great your team is, and it’s not very good.”

There is more.

“They don’t know how to hang on to leads and they know how to fold,” Button continued. “This team has structural positional problems. It is up to the coach to install a better defensive system and help the players understand. The bottom line for me is that Sheldon Keefe better find solutions or they should bring in somebody who will.”

If Detroit beats Florida in Sunrise on Wednesday night, the Red Wings will bump Toronto into a wild card position. If the Panthers win, they will move nine points ahead of the Maple Leafs.

After the loss to the Oilers in an entertaining matchup, Keefe bristled a bit when asked what he will do to help his team out of its rut.

“What has it been, like eight days?” he asked. “Is that a trend? The week before that we won four in a row.”

Yes, it is a trend, and not a good one.

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