TORONTO - Going on the road to face the defending Stanley Cup champions and three Western Conference playoff teams may have been too difficult a test for the Toronto Maple Leafs early in the tenure of interim coach Peter Horachek.
But after dropping those four games, the Maple Leafs came home to Air Canada Centre and looked no better for the experience, losing 4-1 to the lowly Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night.
Nazem Kadri ended Toronto's goal drought at 162 minutes 14 seconds, but the Leafs were still dominated for much of the game. They've lost five in a row and are 1-6-0 under Horachek.
The Hurricanes (16-25-5) controlled play against the Leafs on Monday night, chasing starting goaltender Jonathan Bernier (three goals on 13 shots) in the process. Brad Malone, Brett Bellemore and Eric Staal scored for Carolina, and Staal added an empty-netter.
Carolina goaltender Anton Khudobin made 34 saves for the victory. The Hurricanes improved to 6-2-1 since the calendar turned to 2015.
The Leafs have one more game before the all-star break, Wednesday night at the Ottawa Senators.
Coming off a four-game Western Conference road trip, the Leafs needed a few shifts to get their legs under them. It didn't help that the crowd of 18,979 was quiet-car silent for much of the night.
For the first two-plus periods, the Leafs didn't give fans much of a reason to make noise, other than some stray boos.
Malone gave the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead 7:06 in. Patrick Dwyer's shot from the right wing went off Bernier's pads and right to Malone, who fired the puck into a wide-open net.
Just 41 seconds later, the Leafs were caught flat-footed when Phil Kessel's pass attempt off a faceoff deflected off Carolina defenceman Andrej Sekera to spring Lindholm. The young centre finished off the breakaway by beating Bernier to make it 2-0.
David Clarkson, who had zero points in the past 10 games and just two in the past 20, tried to accomplish something by fighting Malone. It didn't seem to work.
Not long after, it looked like the Hurricanes had a three-goal lead, but Jordan Staal's goal was disallowed on what was called "incidental contact" on former Leafs forward Jiri Tlusty.
After killing off a high-sticking penalty on Tlusty that lasted into the second period, the Hurricanes let their top line of the Staal brothers and Tlusty go to work. Jordan found brother Eric wide open in front, and Carolina's captain went back-hand to beat Bernier 48 seconds into the period.
That was the end of Bernier's night as Horachek pulled him for James Reimer, who stopped all 18 shots he faced in relief. The Leafs hemmed the Hurricanes in on the next shift, but nothing came of it.
Late in the second period, another Leafs fan showed frustration by throwing a jersey onto the ice. Another came down in the third.
The jersey throwing has become something of a disturbing trend during a season that has gone the wrong way quickly.
Kadri snapped the Leafs' drought 14:11 into the third period. His power-play goal also ended the Hurricanes' run of consecutive penalties killed at 36 over 14-plus games.
That goal sparked something, but the Leafs couldn't beat Khudobin again. Eric Staal fired a slap shot into an empty net with 1:34 left to seal it.
Notes ??? Forwards Leo Komarov (shoulder) and Troy Bodie (healthy) and defenceman Stephane Robidas (upper-body injury) were scratches for the Leafs. Matt Frattin made his eighth appearance of the season in Bodie's place. ... Winger Alexander Semin and former Leafs defenceman John-Michael Liles were healthy scratches for Carolina.
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