With a win on one of their two games on this mini-Southeast Division road trip, the Leafs would finish off their first winning month of the season.
Not that coach Ron Wilson was on the lookout for any consolation prizes for his team, which entered play Monday in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, 12 points behind the eighth-place Atlanta Thrashers.
“Over the last 11 games we are 6-4-1 and have been playing well,” Wilson said following his team’s optional game-day skate at the RBC Center. “I’m not concerned about having a winning month record. We’re worried about trying to get back in the playoff race and we have to be prepared to try to win ever single game.”
Opportunities to do that are running out, of course, but the Leafs certainly have played better since the New Year’s.
“I remember the last trip when we were out West I told somebody it finally feels like we’re a team right now, like sticking up for one another, a really hard team to beat,” said goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who made his third consecutive start in net on Monday. “I think there’s still a lot of room for improvement, but that takes time.”
SWEARING BY IT
The Leafs most productive line of Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin has been a pleasant surprise for the team and one that remains a work in progress on and off the ice.
“We have done (well) the last while, but we can’t think of that,” Grabovski, the Leafs’ leading goal scorer with 20, said prior to Monday’s game against the Hurricanes.
“We have success because we are talking all the time. If we do something bad, we try to make it better.”
So what do they talk about, given that Grabovski and Kulemin speak Russian and MacArthur obviously does not? Grabovski said they have been working on enlightening their linemate.
“He probably knows half of the Russian swear words,” Grabovski said with a laugh. “He wants to learn more because there are a lot of Russians in the NHL.”
Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf has been more of a force the past couple of games as he finally gets up to speed since missing 16 games in November and December after a nasty gash near his knee.
“He’s comfortable playing physically now,” Wilson said. “After his injury he was probably a little tentative as anybody would be.
“He needs to be physical and he needs the other team to know that he’s alive out there. Then you’re a little hesitant to come down his side or stand in front of the net.”
Freddie Sjostrom returned to the lineup after missing five games because of a leg injury and skated on a line with Tim Brent and Mike Brown ... Wilson on 18-year-old Carolina winger Jeff Skinner, the NHL’s rookie scoring leader. “You have to be a special player to be able to do that. Obviously he’s physically and mentally able to do that. It’s really rare for a player (that age) to come in and have the impact he’s had.” ... ’Canes coach Paul Maurice knows the Southeast Division has no pushovers. Washington has long been strong but with Tampa Bay having a huge season and Atlanta holding down the last Eastern Conference playoff spot, it’s tough sledding. “You knew it was coming,” Maurice said. “For a bunch of years that everyone was drafting high, eventually it was going to click.” ... Allan Simpson of Kelowna, B.C., who was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday, celebrated by going to the Leafs-Carolina game Monday. Simpson founded Baseball America and lives in Durham, N.C.