Skidding Hurricanes look for turnaround against Maple Leafs

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes couldn't have picked a worst time for their offense to hit the skids.

After battling back into playoff contention in the Eastern Conference last month, the Hurricanes have now lost three straight heading into Sunday night's game against Toronto -- one of a handful of teams Carolina is chasing for a final wild-card spot.

The Hurricanes, seven points out of a playoff spot with 28 games remaining, have scored just three total goals in the recent losing streak -- including losses to the two worst defensive teams in the league -- Dallas and Colorado. Carolina also got shut out at Washington.

Two players in particular who were producing earlier -- Victor Rask and Derek Ryan -- have gone stone cold, each without a point in the last 12 games. And while Jeff Skinner did register the team's lone goal in a 2-1 overtime loss Friday night to Colorado to start a five-game homestand, the team's leading scorer has just three points over that same 12-game span.

"Not starting with the puck very much," Peters said of Rask's slump. "That line is getting dominated on faceoffs a little bit and when that happens that means you are defending, and when you're defending it's tough. I would recommend starting with the puck.

"We'll look at it again to see if we need to make any line changes but eventually those guys aren't getting it done and aren't generating as much as they should," Peters added. "The guys need to step up. That would be the best solution with the problem we have with a lack of offense."

Peters expected the worst as far as his team's timing coming off the NHL's mandatory five-day break, and it unfolded in front of his eyes against the Avalanche -- the worst team in the league.

The Hurricanes have just a Saturday practice to try and get some rhythm back.

"It was rough. Lots of pucks in our feet, lots of turnovers," Peters said.

Skinner said the offensive problems cut deeper than rust from a few days off.

"Having four lines that can play is a must when you get into a situation like this so you share the work load," Skinner said. "We probably need to hang on to pucks more in the offensive end to create more zone time."

Carolina beat Toronto 2-1 in late November, but the Maple Leafs are a different team these days with three of their star rookies -- Mitchell Marner, Auston Matthews and William Nylander -- combing for 57 goals and 132 total points.

Still, the Maple Leafs have sputtered at times recently, holding a 3-4-2 record this month after Saturday night's 6-3 home lost to the Ottawa Senators.

Maybe the Hurricanes' offensive woes can receive a boost against a Toronto team that has allowed five or more goals in four of the last nine games.

"We're a work in progress," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "We'll try to get better and we'll keep working on that."

The Maple Leafs haven't strung much together recently, so consistency is something to be addressed.

"That's part of being a good pro is bringing it every night," Babcock said. "There isn't anything about tricks (for games on back-to-back nights). It's real simple, you've got to win on a nightly basis if you want to be in playoffs."