TORONTO - It's beginning to feel a lot like spring 2014 for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and that's not a good thing.
Back then, the Leafs lost eight straight in regulation and 13 of their final 16 games as a playoff appearance slipped away. Now, they've lost five in a row and again 13 of 16 in regulation as the season seems to be sliding away.
"It's been like this for a couple years now, hasn't it?" star winger Phil Kessel said. "I have no idea. We go through great stretches and then we have these just horrendous stretches. It's pretty frustrating."
Back in 2011-12, with many of these same players in place, the Leafs lost six in a row and 10 of 11 to cost Ron Wilson his job. Since last season's late swoon, coaches have been switched again from Randy Carlyle to Peter Horachek.
It's early in Horachek's tenure as interim coach, but the results haven't been encouraging.
"It's similar, isn't it?" Kessel said. "Same stuff keeps happening. I don't know what to make of it anymore."
When general manager Dave Nonis explained why Carlyle had been fired, he pointed to inconsistency. The same Leafs that went 9-1-1 earlier in the season have been outscored 24-9 in the past seven games under Horachek.
"It's extremely frustrating that we're doing a lot of things in areas that we weren't doing earlier in the year better and now it's the other side of that we're having a tough time with," captain Dion Phaneuf said.
As the Leafs have tried to forge an identity, they've established something of a reputation of letting losing streaks snowball.
"Just momentum," centre Nazem Kadri said. "Momentum's a killer. Once you get on a slide, it seems like other teams are more eager to keep you on that slide."
And the Leafs haven't done much to help themselves, either. Horachek expressed frustration that during Monday night's 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes players reacted to falling behind by cheating to try to score.
"It's a 60-minute game, and you can't let one event ??? whether a bad call, an injury, a goal ??? affect you," Horachek said. "We know that we haven't scored a lot in the last four games. ... We know that we haven't won."
And though Horachek hasn't been around for past losing streaks, players have. Kessel said players must always stay positive, but Kadri knows it's difficult to block out recent history.
"It's not impossible, but it's definitely a frustration that builds over time," Kadri said. "Obviously a win would help kind of ease things, and we know how it is around here and we know how it has been."
The Leafs have one chance to end this skid before the all-star break, when they visit the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. Between the loss to the Hurricanes and that puck drop, Horachek is intent on keeping the negativity from seeping into the locker-room.
"There's no way to move forward with any kind of negativity inside that room," Horachek said. "They're going to have to stand up, face the music and go that much harder and work their way out of. There's no easy way out of times like this. They're going to have to have some conviction and some resolve and it's going to be hard."
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