TORONTO - The swoon that the Maple Leafs wanted to avoid, the one they knew could throw their playoff hopes into peril, might be happening before their eyes.
The Leafs have won just one of their past five games, and they are about to set up camp at the Air Canada Centre, where they have not been successful since the first two weeks of the regular season, when they opened 2011-12 with four wins in five matches.
Since beating the Pittsburgh Penguins at the ACC back on Oct. 29, the Leafs have won once in seven home games. If that continues, there won’t be National Hockey League playoff games in Toronto next April.
When the Carolina Hurricanes visit on Tuesday, it will mark the first game of four in five for the Leafs at corner of Bay and Lakeshore.
“I don’t think there is any panic or any worry,” Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said after a rare Sunday morning practice at the MasterCard Centre.
“I can’t really sit here and pinpoint why we have not been successful at home, to be completely honest with you.
“You have to win at home and you have to win on the road if you want to be a successful team. For some reason, we have played a little better on the road. I don’t know how you could explain that, but the bottom line is we have to start winning some games at home.”
Players will talk at times about how it’s somewhat easier to play on the road, where crowd-pleasing plays don’t carry as much weight. But that whole idea about bringing simple hockey home is great in theory, not so much in practice.
“I don’t know how you go about that,” winger Clarke MacArthur said. “It sounds easy to do, but you get home and it’s a different story.
“I think turnovers are probably the biggest thing for our tam, and getting off to a quick start at home is.
“We have to really try to give it to a team in the first period and get that lead and get feeling good.”
The losses have taken a toll on the Leafs’ place in the Eastern Conference standings. When the Toronto players were feeling good about themselves two weeks ago after, as Phaneuf called it, a trip around North America, they were battling for top spot in the conference. Now, with 33 points, they’re just two points up on the Washington Capitals, in eighth with 31, and the Montreal Canadiens, who are ninth with 31 points. The Philadelphia Flyers lead with 39 points.
A couple of things have to happen for the Leafs to legitimately become a playoff contender. Home victories and deadly penalty-killing never have been hallmarks for coach Ron Wilson during his tenure in Toronto. The Leafs haven’t finished more than three games over .500 at the ACC in any of Wilson’s three seasons behind the Toronto bench, and the ability to kill penalties has eluded Wilson’s Leafs teams, no matter where they are playing.
With the four-goal power-play barrage by the Capitals on Friday night in D.C., the Leafs slipped to 29th, ahead of only the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets.
Expect to see Colby Armstrong, in his second game back from a sprained ankle, get a larger penalty-killing role against the Hurricanes.
“Army deserves the chance,” Wilson said. “He has been a much more accomplished penalty-killer in his career. We want to work him into the mix.”
Like his captain, Wilson is not overly concerned with the recent record, either at home or overall. But in the same breath, Wilson knows it can’t continue.
“We’d just like to somehow find a rhythm where we can win some games at home,” Wilson said.
“We seem to be playing two on the road, one at home, three on the road, one at home, it’s hard to find a rhythm here. We will be rested for the game against Carolina, which I like, because we have not been very rested in many of our games. Getting off to a good start with a lot of energy would be huge for us.”