Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner could be the odd man out Saturday night when his team hosts the Philadelphia Flyers at Air Canada Centre.
Gardiner, who had a minus-2 rating in Thursday's 4-1 loss at Carolina, didn't exactly get a ringing endorsement from head coach Randy Carlyle when he was asked to describe the blue-liner's recent play.
"I think Jake's been very erratic," he said Friday after practice. "Simple as that."
The 24-year-old Gardiner has two goals and six assists through 30 games this season while averaging about 20 minutes of ice time. His minus-11 rating is the worst of any player on the team.
With Roman Polak returning from a knee injury, the Leafs now have seven defenceman on the active roster. Korbinian Holzer was the odd man out against the Hurricanes.
Toronto is an impressive 10-2-1 since an embarrassing 9-2 home ice loss to the Nashville Predators on Nov. 18. After the Flyers' game, the Leafs will play eight road games in a row and 15 of the next 20 away from home.
Toronto had a rough start against the Hurricanes and never recovered. Carolina jumped out to a 2-0 lead and outshot the Leafs 16-9 in the first period.
"That was the major reason why we didn't come out of Carolina with points," said Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf. "The start that we had is something that we talked about today and we're going to concentrate on for tomorrow. We can't start the way we started in that game or the game previous.
"We're giving up too many shots in the first period. We're receiving the game too much. That's on us as players to be more prepared to start games."
Toronto is 14-0-0 when scoring first this season and 13-0-0 when leading after two periods.
With the loss, the Leafs dropped to 5-7-1 against teams below .500 while they have a 14-3-2 record against teams above .500.
"There's different emotions that come into different games, different rivalries," admitted Phaneuf. "As players, it's our job to prepare the same way night in and night out. That's our job.
"Last night we did not prepare the right way. We were not sharp early and it cost us."
Carlyle began juggling his lines during the third period on Thursday. Joffrey Lupul remained with Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak while James van Riemsdyk skated with Nazem Kadri and Mike Santorelli at practice Friday.
Peter Holland centred a line with Daniel Winnik and David Clarkson. The fourth line featured Trevor Smith between David Booth and Richard Panik while Carter Ashton was the extra forward.
Saturday marks another opportunity for van Riemsdyk to line up against his former team. Philadelphia selected the 25-year-old forward with the second overall pick at the 2007 NHL Draft before sending him to Toronto in a June 2012 trade for defenceman Luke Schenn.
"It's obviously not quite the same emotions you have when you play them the first couple times," said van Riemsdyk, who had 47 goals and 99 points in 196 games with the Flyers prior to the trade. "I had a couple great years there as far as making some great friendships and they gave me my chance to break into the league."
NOTES: Forward Leo Komarov, who is recovering from a concussion, skated for 20 minutes with strength and conditioning coach Anthony Belza on Friday. It was just the second time Komarov has skated since he was hit by Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin on Nov. 29. Ashton, who was suspended 20 games after testing positive for a banned substance, has been assigned to the team's AHL affiliate for conditioning purposes.