Jets-Maple Leafs Preview

The Associated Press

The Toronto Maple Leafs made a New Year's resolution to clean up their much-maligned penalty-killing unit.

The Maple Leafs' special teams were stellar in their first game of 2012, an effort they'll look to build on Thursday night against a Winnipeg Jets team that scored a pair of power-play goals against them on New Year's Eve.

Toronto (19-15-5) opened January on Tuesday with an impressive 7-3 win over Tampa Bay. Joffrey Lupul led the way with a goal and three assists while Phil Kessel scored his 22nd goal in the Leafs' highest-scoring game since a 7-1 victory over the Lightning on Nov. 22.

The Leafs killed all five of Tampa Bay's power plays, including a 5-on-3 disadvantage. It was an encouraging performance for a team that came in last in the league on the penalty kill at 72.3 percent.

"We have a mindset now that we're starting fresh in 2012,'' forward Darryl Boyce said. "Regardless of how well we do until the rest of the year - we're not going to bring 73 percent up to the 90s by any means - our mindset is we're just going to start fresh and we're going to put our best foot forward.''

The Leafs had allowed a power-play goal in each of their previous six games, and had killed just 60 percent of their penalties (27 of 45) in their final 11 games of 2011. They lost their final three December games.

"For us to win games we've got to keep getting better in that area,'' defenseman Dion Phaneuf said. "We know that. We've been open and said that we've got to get better. We've taken responsibility that we need to be better.

"I thought we did that, and we're going to use that game and move forward.''

The Leafs will quickly get to see if they've made any improvements against the Jets, who went 2 for 6 with the man advantage in a 3-2 home victory over Toronto on Saturday. Zach Bogosian and Blake Wheeler each scored power-play goals for Winnipeg, which won its third in a row.

The Jets (19-15-5), tied with the Leafs for ninth place in the Eastern Conference, were unable to build on that victory, losing to Montreal 7-3 on Wednesday. Winnipeg went into the second intermission trailing 3-2 before surrendering three goals in the first 3:31 of the third.

"We started to turn the puck over and that was the key," goaltender Ondrej Pavelec said. "You can't play that way, especially in the third. We made the mistakes and they scored the goals."

Pavelec stopped 18 of 24 shots before being replaced by Chris Mason 6:39 into the third. Mason allowed one goal on seven shots.

Pavelec stopped 22 shots in Saturday's win over Toronto and made 20 saves in a 4-3 shootout loss at the Air Canada Centre on Oct. 19, while Mason is 2-1-0 with a 1.66 goals-against average in three career starts against the Leafs.

Toronto's Jonas Gustavsson did not appear in either of the first two games of the season series but is expected to start Thursday. He made 21 saves Tuesday, and is 1-2-0 with a 3.30 GAA in three career games against the Winnipeg franchise.

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