WINNIPEG – Less than two hours before game-time in the grey underbelly of the MTS Centre, Mikhail Grabovski spoke about the need to "keep it simple" with his team playing its third game in four nights.
The Leafs failed to do just that, snapping a three-game win streak with a 2-1 loss to the Jets on Tuesday night. Only 18 shots managed to find their way to Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec – 15 were blocked, 13 missed the net entirely – including just five in the final period with the Leafs down a goal.
"We didn't direct enough pucks toward the net," Ron Wilson said, following the loss. "We were trying to make an extra play, an extra pass and things like that. We just didn't scramble them up enough."
"All the lines kind of got caught in that funk," Clarke MacArthur concurred. "You're not going to score on that many shots, we've got to put more to the net."
Wins over the Penguins, Senators and Oilers had the Leafs flying high, but in midst of a hectic portion in the schedule. Tuesday's visit to Winnipeg was the second half of a back-to-back set and third game in four nights with a date in Philadelphia to follow on Thursday.
A simple attack – more pucks on net – in light of circumstance may have proven the wisest approach.
"That was the idea," Wilson said of firing pucks to the net. "We were skating so well I don't think our guys felt the need for it, but that should've been what we were doing, especially in the third period."
"We tried to make some cute plays by the net that were really close to going in," Joffrey Lupul said. "There was a couple opportunities we would've liked to shoot the puck in hindsight, but again we had good pressure, just didn't quite get enough to the net."
The Leafs sit a point up on Ottawa in seventh in the Eastern Conference, just three back of the Devils and Penguins and five behind the Flyers.
1. Phil Kessel hit the 30-goal plateau for the fourth consecutive season, scoring the lone Leaf goal in the loss. The 24-year-old is on pace for his first 40-goal campaign. "We didn't take the puck for the 30th," Lupul cracked, "better get to 40." Kessel's goal was the only one of his five shot-attempts to hit the net, the other four were blocked.
2. A real streaky scorer in years past, consistency has been the key for Kessel this season. His longest goal drought of the year is just six games with three additional skids of three games and just one of four. Kessel's 15.6 shooting percentage would eclipse his previous career-high of 15.5, set in 2008-2009, the year he scored 36 with the Bruins in what stands as the best year of his career.
3. The Leaf power play failed to generate a shot in either of its two opportunities against the Jets, falling to just 4-for-35 (11 percent) over the past 12 games. "Our powerplay let us down," Wilson said. "We didn't really even get a shot on goal I think tonight and we had a couple opportunities." The unit sits fifth in the league at 19.8 per cent.
4. On the other end of the spectrum is the continued perfection of the Leaf penalty kill, which halted the Jets in both opportunities. The Leafs have yet to give up a powerplay goal in the new year, remaining spotless for 16 consecutive games (24-for-24). The last time they yielded a powerplay goal was in Winnipeg on December 31, 2011, in a 3-2 loss to the Jets. "Yeah I think a month, month and a half ago we were kind of running around and not playing with any structure," Jake Gardiner told TSN.ca earlier this week. "Now we're smart about it and we pressure when we have to, stay in the shooting lanes, have our sticks down on the ice at all times; coach Cronin's been doing a good job at getting us back in order. We've been hot lately and pretty disciplined too; we haven't taken many stupid penalties."
5. Jonas Gustavsson returned to the net with 27 saves after sitting the previous three games in favour of James Reimer. "After a few shots you get into it and then it's like playing the next day almost," he said. Gustavsson regretted the first goal he allowed, a backhand far-side on a partial break by Chris Thorburn. "He came in pretty fast there. I felt like he was going to try to push himself and try to go around me there like they did on the second goal," Gustavsson explained. "I guess I opened up just a small gap there because I was going to get ready to push across if he was going to do that move…Of course you want to stop that, especially when he didn't break in like that."