Olli Jokinen has been with the Toronto Maple Leafs less than a week, but he already feels the tension and frustration that continues to consume them.
Mired in the worst road losing streak in club history, the Maple Leafs visit one of the few teams below them in the standings Friday night but might not have an easy time against a Carolina Hurricanes club that’s dominated them lately.
The 36-year-old Jokinen didn’t record a point Tuesday in his first game since Toronto (23-30-5) acquired him from Nashville as part of Sunday’s four-player deal that sent Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli south. However, the veteran center didn’t waste time offering his opinion of the Maple Leafs’ current state after the 3-2 loss to Florida dropped them to 4-21-2 since Dec. 17.
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"The one thing I notice here being here (a short time) is a lot of negative energy around here," Jokinen said. "You’ve got to find a way to have something to play for. You’ve got to try to bring that every day."
That hasn’t been easy for the Maple Leafs, who are amid a disappointing season that likely will be their ninth in the last 10 without a playoff appearance.
"It’s tough," backup goaltender James Reimer said. "It’s hard to fight that negative momentum. Each man to ourselves, we have to be accountable, and try to pull through it together."
The Maple Leafs have lost 18 of 20 in the new year, including losses in all 13 of their road games to set a team record. They’ve managed only 14 goals during that slide, part of the reason No. 1 goalie Jonathan Bernier has lost a career-high 10 straight starts despite allowing no more than three goals in nine of them.
The weekend trade and four straight one-goal losses haven’t helped lift Toronto’s collective frustration.
"I think if you lose two games in a row and you hit a couple of posts and stuff you can kind of blame it on bad luck, but when you lose 14 of 18 games I think luck has nothing to do with it at that point," forward Peter Holland said. "You just aren’t playing good enough."
Toronto is four points ahead of the Hurricanes (20-29-7), but has been outscored 14-3 during a three-game series skid that’s featured a pair of 4-1 losses this season. The Maple Leafs have lost five straight in Raleigh and were held to one goal in each of the last three.
Joffrey Lupul and Dion Phaneuf have two of Toronto’s last three goals versus Carolina, but Phaneuf remains out with a hand injury suffered Jan. 21 and Lupul is likely to miss a fourth straight contest with a lower-body injury.
Carolina, however, has totaled four goals during an 0-2-1 home slide that matches its longest such skid of the season. A night after matching a season high for goals in Monday’s 6-3 win at Ottawa, the Hurricanes only avoided being shut out thanks to Jiri Tlusty’s 13th goal midway through the third period of a 4-1 home loss to the New York Islanders.
Carolina had 38 shots Tuesday and has had at least 30 in seven of its last eight games but is scoring on a league-low 7.3 percent of its shots.
"Even if you throw 40 shots and score one goal, you generally aren’t winning games," forward Justin Faulk told the Hurricanes’ official website.
Captain Eric Staal has only three points over the last nine games but has two goals and two assists versus Toronto this season.