Olli Jokinen's first impression of the atmosphere around Toronto Maple Leafs was a damning assessment.
"The one thing I notice here being here two days is a lot of negative energy around here," Jokinen said after Tuesday's loss to the Florida Panthers, the Leafs' 23rd in the past 27 games.
A 4-21-2 run will foster the negativity that Jokinen said Wednesday included coverage of the team. He didn't follow the Leafs' struggles while he was with the Nashville Predators, but the 36-year-old veteran centre's drop-in look at the situation feels like a reality check.
"These guys, and it's a good group of guys here, they're going to play forever," Jokinen said. "They've got a lot of good years ahead of them. You've got to find a way to have something to play for. You've got to try to bring that every day."
Centre Nazem Kadri noted after the 3-2 loss to Florida that he and his teammates were "trying out there, we're showing passion." But the losing nevertheless has taken its toll.
"It's not easy to go through and it's not fun to go through," Kadri said. "No one's happy about it. You try and keep it light or whatever you can, but it's always in the back of your mind."
Told of Jokinen's "negative energy" comment, interim coach Peter Horachek said he felt it too, but said it's something that has come up recently. He figured that Sunday's trade that sent defenceman Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to Nashville had an effect on the group psyche and even stopped practice Monday to get things back on track.
"Coming back to practice when everybody found out that Santorelli and Franson got traded, they were kind of down," Horachek said. "The energy wasn't great. ... I thought the guys just weren't engaged and they were still thinking about what was going on."
Trade talk isn't going anywhere for the Leafs before the March 2 deadline, so players must get used to teammates coming and going.
"You can try and downplay it and say it's not on your mind, certain scenarios and trade rumours and stuff, but it is," said winger Joffrey Lupul, who has been out with a lower-body injury. "From 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. I think you should be able to try and put that stuff aside."
Putting it aside after the season has already gone off the rails is easier said than done. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier has the benefit of worrying about his job and not some of the mess in front of him, but losing is losing no matter how it happens.
"If you're negative, then you won't work hard in practice," Bernier said. "You've just got to find a way to get out of it. It's tough, mentally, but when you're going to look back at it, if you find a way to get out, then you're going to be a stronger person, stronger player."