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nashville 9, toronto 2

Nashville Predators forward Paul Gaustad (28) congratulates forward Taylor Beck (41) on his first goal of the first period on Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier (45) at the Air Canada Centre.John E. Sokolowski

Give the in-arena music man credit for his good timing.

With the Toronto Maple Leafs down 4-0 and the Nashville Predators playing them into the ground, over the Air Canada Centre sound system blared the Tragically Hip with a few thoughts.

"Everything is bleak," Gord Downie warbled. "It's the middle of the night."

It wasn't. It was actually early. But some fans began streaming out of the arena nonetheless. Others booed softly. Most simply sat on their hands.

What the departed ones missed was what became one of the most lopsided games in franchise history.

This was Game 19 of what's been a very curious season for the Leafs, one in which they've be more inconsistent than any other team in the league.

What's clear, however, is this is a group that knows how to lose. Including getting thumped 9-2 by the Preds on Tuesday, the Leafs have been embarrassed with a capital 'E' in five of their eight losses this season.

In each case, they've looked completely unprepared.

They haven't showed up. They haven't showed any resolve after getting down early.

A couple of these losses you can attribute to better opposition. Pittsburgh in the second game of the year? Okay, it happens. The Bruins? Sure.

But two of those spectacular losses have come against the Coyotes and Sabres in the last couple weeks.

Then there was Tuesday, which was a whole new type of bad. And these outings are happening so often it's becoming absurd.

Nashville is off to a terrific start, so we can't lump them in with the strugglers, but there's a trend here for the Leafs. And playing like this goes back well beyond this season.

"We were playing as individuals and those are the things that you can't do," coach Randy Carlyle said. "It's a team game."

Sorry, that was about the Buffalo game.

"You have to support the puck in all three zones, you have to stay structured, and we lost our structure," Carlyle said.

So was that one.

The thing is, you can transplant the quotes from game to game when the Leafs lose because the explanations don't change. They don't "compete," they don't play with structure, and they play as individuals.

Against teams that do do those things – like the Preds – Toronto looks absolutely terrible.

The player meting out the beating to start this night was one Taylor Beck, a fourth-liner who before Tuesday had only four career goals.

Thanks to the Leafs, the St. Catharines, Ont., native now is up to six.

Along the way, quite a few of the actual locals didn't play well. Jake Gardiner and Dion Phaneuf were exhibits A and B on the first two goals, by which point – 10 minutes into the game – it felt like the night was already over.

Because it was Beck doing some of the damage, we could trot out the old truism about a local kid who grew up a Leafs fan came back to haunt them.

Or we could pick through the ashes of the brouhaha over Phil Kessel not talking to the media after the loss to the Sabres.

Sigh.

These are the sort of silly things filling notebooks of late given the home side has been hard to pin down and harder to make interesting, especially after efforts – using the term loosely – like Tuesday's.

The reality is that with each game it becomes clearer what the Leafs are: a mediocre team in mediocre times, waiting for – and desperately in need of – a facelift.

At best, they could ride a strong power play (which was horrid in this one, but never mind) and good goaltending (ditto) to an 85– to 90-point season and hope that's somehow enough.

Even if it works, it doesn't make a lot of sense.

In defence of Brendan Shanahan, he was only hired in April and this is a mess so big that it will take the new president a long time to clean up.

He's preached patience – and fair enough given all the rash mistakes made by Leafs executives in the past – but surely the dustpan has to come out soon.

Some of the garbage has been ripe and waiting for a while.