(SportsNetwork.com) - Recently-acquired forward Olli Jokinen offered a fresh- look perspective on the Toronto Maple Leafs current struggles, but his take wasn't a departure from what has already been assumed.
The fading Leafs try to avoid a fifth straight loss on Friday night and a season series sweep at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Toronto owned a seven-point lead for a wild card spot on Dec. 16 after picking up a sixth victory in a row, but the club has gone just 5-21-2 since and now sits 14th in the Eastern Conference with 51 points, four more than the Hurricanes.
As a result, the Maple Leafs figure to be heavy sellers prior to the approaching trade line, a process that began last weekend when they dealt defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli to the NHL-leading Nashville Predators for Jokinen, Brendan Leipsic and a first-round pick.
Jokinen made his Leafs debut on Tuesday, logging 10 1/2 minutes of ice time in a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers. It was Toronto's 15th loss in 16 games and Jokinen, who could be flipped to a contender before the deadline, noted the atmosphere postgame.
"You gotta find a way to have something to play for and try to bring that everyday," said Jokinen. "The one thing I noticed in being here for two days is a lot of negative energy around here. But as a team we have to find a way to bring the positive energy. We can create that as players. That's our job.
"You've got to have pride. Once you put the jersey on, you have to find a way to play for that logo, play for that city and play for your teammates and at the end of the day, for your yourself and your family."
Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel lit the lamp in defeat, Nazem Kadri assisted on both goals and Jonathan Bernier made just 14 saves. However, two of the goals that Bernier allowed came with Toronto shorthanded and the Maple Leafs were unable to pull even despite outshooting the Panthers 16-1 in the third period.
"Our penalty killing, especially early, was too passive," said Leafs interim head coach Peter Horachek said, who took over for a fired Randy Carlyle on Jan. 7. "We gave them too many opportunities."
The Maple Leafs host the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, so both Bernier and James Reimer could see action. Reimer actually is 4-2-1 lifetime versus the Hurricanes with a 2.47 goals against average and .919 save percentage in nine meetings (8 starts), while Bernier is 2-4-0 with a 3.03 GAA and .912 save percentage in six meetings (5 starts).
Bernier started the first two of three meetings this season with the Hurricanes, pulled early in one. Those 4-1 victories for Carolina extended their series winning streak to three in a row with a victory in eight of the previous 10 encounters.
Carolina has won five straight at home versus Toronto and looks to rebound tonight following a 4-1 setback to the New York Islanders on Tuesday.
Jiri Tlusty scored the Hurricanes' lone goal and Anton Khudobin stopped 26- of-29 shots in defeat, the club's third in four games and sixth in the past nine.
"They started the game right and came at us," said Tlusty. "Unfortunately, we didn't score more than one goal."
Like the Leafs, the Hurricanes also are in action on Saturday as they visit the New Jersey Devils and could split starts between their goaltenders.
Khudobin is 3-1-0 with a 1.90 GAA and .929 save percentage in four games versus the Leafs, while Cam Ward is 15-9-2 with a 2.73 GAA, .910 save percentage and two shutouts in 26 contests (25 starts).