Stuck at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the last thing the Carolina Hurricanes need is to be without one of the game's best young stars for any significant amount of time.
The struggling Hurricanes are expected to play minus center Jeff Skinner for a second straight game when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.
Carolina (9-18-4) has lost eight of nine, including Friday's 4-2 defeat at Winnipeg. The Hurricanes were without Skinner, the team leader with 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists), who was bothered by flu-like symptoms. While the status of Skinner's flu is uncertain, the 19-year-old forward is likely to miss this contest due to an injury the team will not disclose.
That does not bode well for the Hurricanes, who have won just six of their last 25 games and fell behind 4-0 against the Jets.
"The guys don't quit,'' said Kirk Muller, who is 1-5-0 since replacing the fired Paul Maurice as coach last month. "They keep battling through it. But it's the old saying: catch-up hockey is losing hockey.''
Acquired in a trade with Montreal for fellow defensemen Tomas Kaberle earlier Friday, Jaroslav Spacek had two assists in his Carolina debut.
"I'm happy to put some points on the board,'' said the 37-year-old Spacek, who is playing for his seventh team. "If you don't win it doesn't matter. I'd rather take two points for the team than my two points.''
Cam Ward was pulled after allowing four goals in 31 minutes against the Jets, but he did stop 23 shots in Carolina's 3-2 win over Toronto on Nov. 20.
Skinner had a goal with an assist in that game while teammate Eric Staal added two assists. Staal, back with the Hurricanes after returning to Raleigh following the birth of his son over the weekend, has three goals and six assists in his last seven games.
Despite their overall struggles this season, the Hurricanes could have some confidence Tuesday thanks to winning 12 of the last 17 meetings with the Maple Leafs. A 3-0 defeat at Toronto on Feb. 3 snapped Carolina's five-game winning streak at the Air Canada Centre.
Toronto (15-11-3) will try to avoid a third straight loss overall after falling 4-2 at Washington on Friday. All four Capitals goals came on the power play. The Maple Leafs have allowed seven power-play goals on 15 chances over their last three games.
"We need better clears in situations when we don't get the puck down ice after winning a battle for it and just the theories behind what we are talking about where guys should be and making it a habit," coach Ron Wilson told the Maple Leafs' official website.
Toronto isn't faring well on the power play, either, going 1 for 12 while losing three of its last four games. The Leafs had scored with the man advantage in each of their previous eight contests.
Phil Kessel scored his 18th goal - tying him for the NHL lead - Friday for the Maple Leafs. He has found the net in each of his last two games after being held without a goal in his previous six. Kessel has four goals and two assists in his last five games versus Carolina.
Maple Leafs netminder James Reimer could have a chance to snap a three-game skid in which he's posted a 3.63 goals-against average.