(SportsNetwork.com) - The Toronto Maple Leafs return home from a disappointing road trip with a new look on their bench Wednesday night as they take on the Washington Capitals.
The Maple Leafs were outscored 8-2 in losing the final two contests of a seven-game swing to Minnesota and Winnipeg, with the defeats on back-to-back days wrapping up a 2-5-0 road trip.
Toronto has lost seven of its past nine and owns just a one-point lead over the Boston Bruins for the Eastern Conference's second wild card, but despite currently having a playoff spot head coach Randy Carlyle was fired on Tuesday.
"It just fell into place that this is where we're at. If this would have happened and we felt we were trending this way a month from now we would have done the same thing," said Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis.
"Earlier in the season we had some pretty good stretches where we thought we were going to be the consistent team we wanted to be. That didn't happen and we couldn't wait longer. At this point we felt we needed to make this change."
Carlyle was hired by the Maple Leafs during the 2011-12 campaign, not long after being relieved of his coaching duties by the Anaheim Ducks, and led Toronto to the postseason the following campaign. That snapped a franchise- worst seven-season span without a playoff appearance, but Toronto failed to make it back to the 2014 postseason.
Assistant Peter Horachek was elevated to interim head coach on Wednesday. Horachek previously served in the same role for the Florida Panthers beginning in November of 2013 before joining Toronto the following summer and also spent 10 seasons in Nashville as an assistant under current Capitals head coach Barry Trotz.
The Maple Leafs try to pick up the pieces following a 5-1 loss to the Jets on Saturday.
James Reimer gave No. 1 netminder Jonathan Bernier a breather and was peppered with 40 shots, allowing all five goals. Mike Santorelli recorded Toronto's only goal 2:19 into the second period when he batted in James van Riemsdyk's cross-ice pass into the back of the net.
"Maybe we were a little tired, but I don't want to give that as an excuse," Reimer said. "We're professionals, and we have to find ways to win these games."
Toronto has been able to pick up some wins over Washington as of late, winning each of the previous three meetings. The Maple Leafs took the first of three meetings with the Capitals this season 6-2 at home on Nov. 29.
Bernier made 35 saves and is 3-1-0 with a 2.01 goals against average and .932 save percentage versus Washington. Tyler Bozak scored twice.
Justin Peters played the first and third periods in net for Washington, allowing three goals on 11 shots. Braden Holtby took over in the second and gave up three scores on 12 shots.
Peters has not started since and Holtby is likely to make his 16th straight start tonight. He is 2-1-1 versus the Leafs with a 1.76 GAA and .943 save percentage in four meetings, including three starts.
Holtby came up with 29 saves in Sunday's 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers. It marked the Capitals' sixth victory in eight games and improved them to 10-1-3 in their past 14 games.
"We are doing a lot of the right things and playing sometimes a boring style of hockey, but it's the winning style of hockey and its way more fun playing that way for us," Caps defenseman Karl Alzner told NHL.com.
Alzner, Brooks Laich and Andre Burakovsky all scored and Alex Ovechkin tallied and added an assist for his third multi-point game in a row.
Ovechkin has three goals and six points over that span, which includes a win over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Winter Classic on New Year's Day.