The Toronto Maple Leafs are off to their best start in 20 years and lead the NHL’s Eastern Conference in points and goals. Coach Randy Carlyle, though, isn't very happy with his team's play.

The Maple Leafs look for a fourth straight victory Thursday (7 p.m. ET) when they host a Carolina Hurricanes squad attempting to snap a three-game losing streak.

Winger James van Riemsdyk will sit a second consecutive game Thursday with back spasms. He's considered day to day but there's no specific recovery time.

"He did skate [Wednesday], and we felt that was an improvement," Carlyle said. "But he's kind of plateaued or flattened out here, and we're not going to put him on the ice in a situation where we think we're going to possibly have him have any setback."

Carlyle had previously said he was "surprised" that the injury occurred and called it upper-body. He said van Riemsdyk did not suffer the injury in a game.

Van Riemsdyk has five goals and an assist in his first six games of the season.

Dealing with players being out of the lineup is nothing new for the Leafs. They're already without wingers Nikolai Kulemin (bone chip in right ankle) and David Clarkson (10-game suspension), enforcer Frazer McLaren (broken right pinky finger) and defenceman Mark Fraser (knee).

Infusion of youth

That has meant calling up players like Josh Leivo, Trevor Smith and David Broll from the American Hockey League's Marlies and plugging them into the lineup. Van Riemsdyk's injury earlier this week just opened up another spot.

Toronto's 6-1-0 start is its best since the 1993-94 team opened with 10 consecutive victories, and it has scored 27 goals while allowing 16. However, the Maple Leafs have been outshot in five of their seven games, including the last four, and were fortunate to come away with a win over Minnesota on Tuesday.

'Some nights we're going to get our butt kicked playing like this.'- Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle

The Wild held a 37-14 advantage in shots, but some timely goals and James Reimer's solid performance in net led to a 4-1 victory for Toronto.

"Some nights we're going to get our butt kicked playing like this," Carlyle said.

The Maple Leafs scored on their first shot, a tap-in from the crease by Tyler Bozak on the power play 4:24 into the game, and Trevor Smith scored his first goal of the season at 13:51 on the team's third shot.

Mason Raymond scored another power-play goal in the second period and added an empty-netter, while Cody Franson and rookie defenseman Morgan Rielly had two assists each.

"By no means was that our identity, what we want to play like out there," Raymond said. "We weren't real good in a lot of areas, but we also found a way to win. As we keep saying, we aren't going to take away from our wins, but there's definitely lots of room for improvement."


Carlyle is grateful the wins keep coming, but he's concerned with his team's recent performances.

"Again, we're in a situation that it's hard to be critical when you're getting points," he said. "We're not going to continue to accept what's happening, but we have to find a way to mold this from a different angle that our level of play has to increase."

Carolina (2-2-3) raised its level of play late in Tuesday's matchup with defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago, getting goals from Alexander Semin and Ron Hainsey in the third period to erase a two-goal deficit and send the game into overtime. The Hurricanes, though, lost 3-2 in a shootout to finish 0-1-2 on a three-game homestand.

Despite the defeat, coach Kirk Muller was pleased his team didn't give up and managed to put at least 34 shots on goal for the fifth time this season.

"I really like the way our leaders took charge tonight and kept everyone composed, and we went out and had a good second and third period, climbed back into it and tied the game," Muller said. "… This was a heck of a hockey game. The chances were there."

Carolina had its four-game winning streak in this series end with a 6-3 loss at Toronto on March 28. The Hurricanes had earned at least one point in the previous six matchups, going 5-0-1.

With files from The Associated Press