Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe seemed a bit perplexed when trying to find a cause for his team's unforced errors in a 4-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.
"Maybe we can chalk it up to fatigue, I don't quite know."
Toronto dropped their third straight game in regulation time to mark their longest losing streak of the season. In all three contests, the Maple Leafs had more scoring chances, shot attempts and a higher share of the expected goals.
But in all of those games, mistakes cost the team points in the standings and their offense stalled when trying to atone for the errors.
"You either have winning habits, or you have losing habits," Keefe said. "And when you have losing habits, you end up giving up free goals, and then when you don't score enough on the other side of it, you lose games."
Defensively, the team looked out of sorts. Justin Holl, who has performed above expectations this season, had difficulty carrying the puck out of Toronto's zone.
One sequence midway through the opening period saw Holl give the puck away twice in his own zone on the same shift. The second instance left defensive partner Jake Muzzin with no choice but to take a hooking penalty to avoid a scoring chance.
It didn't matter as Winnipeg's Andrew Copp scored on the ensuing power play that erased an early 1-0 Toronto lead.
Holl's issues continued early in the second period. After another giveaway that led to a scoring chance for Winnipeg, Keefe swapped his bottom two pairs of defensemen. Holl moved to the five-six role to skate with Travis Dermott and Zach Bogosian moved up the skate Muzzin.
The adjustment didn't help as both pairs took turns being on the ice for Winnipeg's second and third goals of the game.
"I thought we made some critical errors tonight that put us in a bad spot," Holl said.
In the third period, Keefe reverted his defensive units back to the way the game started. Down 3-2, Toronto continued to generate offense but were met by Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who made several high-danger saves to preserve his team's lead.
After dominating the possession battle, Toronto turned the puck over on an errant clearing attempt by Morgan Rielly. Mason Appleton beat Andersen for Winnipeg fourth goal of the night at 7:53.
"I think we've just been maybe not as crisp as we'd like to be for 60 minutes," Leafs captain John Tavares said. "We just don't seem to be ending up on the right side of it."
Toronto looked like world-beaters when they swept the Edmonton Oilers as part of their five-game road trip. Athough the stats show that Toronto outperformed in two games against the Vancouver Canucks and the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, a pair of red-hot goalies combined with mistakes on their own end resulted in zero points out of a possible six.
"I think every team goes through little stretches like this but I think there's lot for us to take away from it," Keefe said. "It's obviously a good thing for us that in all three games we're right there. We're in every game and could have easily got points out of each."
Toronto's mistakes overshadowed some things that Toronto did well against the Jets.
Zach Hyman scored a highlight-reel goal by going coast-to-coast before beating Hellebuyck for the opening tally of the game. He was Toronto's best player of the evening, driving Toronto's third line tasked with shutting down Winnipeg's top players.
"I thought he was really good and he's been really good for us," Keefe said. "He played hard. Ir was a big-time goal he scored for us. He's working and he's doing his job."
Auston Matthews, playing with a sore wrist, broke a five-game scoring slump by scoring two goals against Winnipeg.
The first one came in a new role by acting as the net-front presence on the team's first power-play unit. He used his exceptional hand-eye cordination to deflect Rielly's shot to tie the game 1-1 in the first period.
He scored his second goal on a 6-on-5 that brought the game to within a goal with 1:54 remaining in regulation time.
Instead of sitting out to rest, Matthews has continued to play through the pain with Keefe also insisting that his top sniper can be helpful in other areas of the game outside of shooting.
"Once you get out there, it kind of just goes away." Matthews said when asked about dealing with pain. "I felt fine. My legs felt good and we did some good stuff. We would have like to get two points, but i think it's always positive when you're helping your team."
The game plan for Matthews is to try and tough it out for three more games before the team gets a lengthy break in the schedule the following week.
During that time, they'll be trying to fix their mistakes that have led to an unexpected slide.