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The Toronto Maple Leafs are hoping they can turn their defense around in the second half of the season, but doing it against the Carolina Hurricanes won't be easy.
The Maple Leafs open a season-high five-game road trip Tuesday when they meet the Hurricanes.
Toronto (23-21-6) ranks near the bottom of the league with 3.30 goals allowed per game. However, the Maple Leafs got a strong defensive effort in Saturday's 4-1 win over Montreal in their first game following the All-Star break.
Toronto's penalty kill, which also ranks among the worst in the league, allowed just one goal on seven chances after giving up five man-advantage goals in its previous game, an 8-2 loss at Pittsburgh on Jan. 20.
"We were better defensively tonight," coach Paul Maurice said. "I thought that after the first 10 minutes we moved the puck from our end out much better."
Defenseman Pavel Kubina, who signed a four-year, $20 million contract in the offseason, scored twice for just his third and fourth goals of the season. Maurice said that breaking out of his offensive slump will also help Kubina defensively.
"Being a part of a team that plays a better defensive game, he's a big part of that. I think it kind of goes hand-in-hand. When a guy who wants points, and needs them, starts to put pucks in the net he relaxes defensively."
Mats Sundin also scored Saturday for Toronto, recording his first goal in nine games. He has 1,210 career points, tied with Bobby Clarke for 38th on the all-time list.
The Maple Leafs also visit the New York Rangers, Ottawa, St. Louis and Nashville on the trip.
Their defense could have a tough time on the first stop against Carolina, which is averaging 3.12 goals per game. The Hurricanes (26-20-6) have scored nine goals in their two games since the break, including Saturday's 7-3 loss at Washington.
Justin Williams, Erik Cole and David Tanabe scored for Carolina, which defeated the Capitals 6-2 on Friday in the first game of a home-and-home series.
"Last night, we were doing simple things and not turning the puck over," Tanabe said. "And when we do that, we have success."
Coach Peter Laviolette was clearly frustrated with his team, which has dropped four of its last six.
"We need to pay a price every night and right now we're not doing that," Laviolette said. "Anybody (who) thinks that we paid the price tonight or that we were somewhat interested in skating and battling Washington - I hope nobody leaves the room thinking that. I really do. ... Not a lot. Not a lot to hang your hat on."
The Hurricanes are in sixth place in the jumbled Eastern Conference with 58 points, six ahead of Toronto. The Maple Leafs are two points out of eighth place in the conference.
"There's so many good teams," Carolina center Eric Staal said. "You can find yourself anywhere from third to 13th, so points are valuable. Tonight was big for us; didn't happen. So we need to look forward to the next game."