Slumping Leafs, Hurricanes face off in Carolina

The cellar-dwelling Toronto Maple Leafs will visit the struggling Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center on Friday night (7 p.m. ET).

Both clubs sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, with the Hurricanes and Buds holding the 14th and 15th spots, respectively.

Carolina (2-8-3) is entrenched in a nine-game losing streak, while Toronto  (1-7-5) has only one win on the season, and has lost four straight contests (0-3-1).

In Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Leafs welcomed back star Phil Kessel , who was kept off the scoresheet, but had a career-high 10 shots on net.

The ex-Bruin, however, wasn’t happy with his performance.

“I’m pretty disappointed, he said.  “I’ve got to contribute.  That’s what [the Leafs] brought me in for.”

Leaf GM Brian Burke sacrificed a lot to add the 36-goal scorer to his roster, giving up two first-round draft picks and a second-rounder to Boston, so expectations for him are relatively high.

Despite playing with Matt Stajan as his centreman against Tampa Bay, Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson put Kessel alongside John Mitchell during Wednesday’s practice.

Jason Blake remained the fixture on the opposite wing.

“I’m experimenting right now, nothing more, nothing less,” Wilson told reporters.

“I like the way Mitchy played [Tuesday] night [with a couple of late shifts with Kessel] and his speed matches up [with Blake and Kessel]. It’s about finishing off opportunities.”

Stajan, meanwhile, was moved down to the third line, practising in between Niklas Hagman and Lee Stempniak.

The 25-year-old was not bothered by the change in plans.

“I think people read too much into [line changes], he said.

Ex-Leaf coach Paul Maurice and his Hurricanes had a back-to-basics practice on Wednesday in Raleigh, N.C.

Maurice attributes passive play among the issues that have contributed to his club’s slow start.

“We’ve got four guys waiting for the puck to be moved,” he told the Raleigh News and Observer.

On Friday, his team will be without superstar centre Eric Staal, who suffered what is being called an upper-body injury, during last Sunday’s game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Canadian Olympic-hopeful is expected to miss several games.

“It’s going to be hard not having [Staal] around, for sure. It’ll be strange,” said Hurricane’s winger Sergei Samsonov.

“He plays a lot of minutes, a lot of important minutes. Normally when guys like that go out you have to pick your game up, and I think we will. I don’t think anybody is giving up in this room.”