Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice knows all about how much of a pressure cooker it is when you’re the leader of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
His visiting club is in contention for a Western Conference playoff berth and will try to heap more misery on the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
Maurice is an Ontario native who coached Toronto from 2006-08, missing the postseason both seasons. With the Maple Leafs floundering en route to missing the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 seasons, Maurice told media in Toronto just how difficult he thinks coaching the storied franchise is.
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"If a guy has a tough night and you want to deal with the media honestly, you’ve got to be careful about how hard you go at his play because then the next day or maybe even that day, it’s a drive-by shooting," Maurice said.
The coach is enjoying happier times on the other side of Canada, with his Jets (30-20-10) involved in a tight race as they seek to end a seven-season playoff drought. Winnipeg has won five straight over Toronto, with Bryan Little registering a goal and two assists in a 5-1 home win Jan. 3.
Jets opponents have converted nine of their last 21 chances on the power play. That pattern continued Thursday when Washington was 3 for 6 with the man advantage in handing visiting Winnipeg a 5-1 loss.
"We’re a little befuddled by our penalty killing honestly right now, but other than that they’ve done well at addressing what wasn’t right and getting back to how we’re supposed to look," Maurice said.
Little was held without a point after he had five over his previous two games for Winnipeg, which was outshot 33-20.
"You’re going to have nights where you just don’t have it and that was definitely the case last night," Little said Friday. "Today was just about moving forward and making sure we come out a lot better tomorrow."
Toronto (23-31-5) fell to 0-4-1 in its last five games – with all the losses by one goal – with Friday’s 2-1 defeat at Carolina. James van Riemsdyk’s goalless streak was extended to 10 games; his last longer run was a 17-game drought Oct. 7-Nov. 20, 2010, with Philadelphia.
The Maple Leafs fell to 2-15-2 in 19 games since Peter Horachek replaced Randy Carlyle as coach.
”You’ve got to be strong," Horachek said. "Right now, after games is the hardest time. You’ve got to deal with it for an hour and then you’ve got to move on.”
The lone bright spot was rookie Brandon Kozun scored his first career goal.
James Reimer started Friday so it appears Horachek will turn back to usual starter Jonathan Bernier, who is 0-8-2 with a 2.71 goals-against average in his last 10 starts.
Maurice will choose between Michael Hutchinson, who has won three straight starts, and Ondrej Pavelec, winless in his last four road starts. Hutchinson is an Ontario native who has never started in Toronto while Pavelec has won his last four starts versus the Leafs.