Despite the results, Randy Carlyle’s message remains the same.

After losing its second straight game and having accumulated just five points in their last 15 games, the Toronto Maple Leafs put forth a solid effort in dropping a 3-2 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“There were a lot of positives that came out of (Wednesday’s) hockey game,” Carlyle said.

“That’s part of the coaching staff’s responsibility. You are going to hear it a lot of times from me; it’s about the environment we are able to create for them. They have to feel good about their work ethic and I told them so. But, again, the mental mistakes are correctable. The positional mistakes we made and the turnovers at inopportune times are correctable.”

It was a second straight solid effort. It was also the second consecutive night the Leafs lost two players to injury.

Joffrey Lupul and right winger Colby Armstrong went down against the Bruins. Lupul, who will be out 3-4 weeks, suffered a separated shoulder while Armstrong broke his nose in a fight and is listed as day-to-day.

Early in the first period, Mike Brown — who missed Tuesday’s game with a sore hand — crashed heavily into the end boards behind the Penguins’ goal and got up slowly before heading to the dressing room with a leg injury. Not long afterwards defenceman Cody Franson took the butt end of teammate Tim Connolly’s stick in the eye and also did not return to the game.

Carlyle, who was coaching just his third game since joining the Leafs last Friday, leaned heavily on some of his players who were given additional ice time and responsibility. Captain Dion Phaneuf led the Leafs at 29:20 and responded with a plus-2 rating.

“I think that we showed signs of enthusiasm and kind of stuck with our game plan,” Carlyle explained. “I thought we were better from a defensive standpoint in the critical areas and I thought that our work-ethic was stronger, but we ran out of bodies. We lost two bodies in the first 10 minutes of the hockey game again (Wednesday) and it taxes everybody else.

“Then it showed in some of the questionable decisions in terms of when to pinch and when not to pinch; turnovers and positioning. It’s the little things that are costing us and my message to the players was, until we adopt the mentality that we are going to correct those little things, the work they are putting in they are not being rewarded for.”

On a day when the Penguins organization honoured the great Mario Lemieux by unveiling a statue of No. 66 in front of the CONSOL Energy Center, it was the visitors who got off to a fast start in the game.

Right winger Phil Kessel scored his second goal in as many nights and 34th of the season a minute into the second period with the teams playing four aside. The puck was directed to him at the side of the goal and he swept it past Brad Thiessen, who was playing in just his second NHL game.

Six minutes later defenceman Carl Gunnarsson scored his second in as many games when a shot by Mikhail Grabovski banked in off his leg. Pascal Dupuis pulled the Penguins to within a goal when he deflected a shot past Jonas Gustavsson.

There’s a reason why the Penguins are one of the best teams in the NHL and were entering Wednesday’s tilt riding a six-game winning streak and the Leafs found out why as the game progressed. Quite simply, the Penguins don’t quit. They pounded the shorthanded Leafs every chance they got.

Jordan Staal tied it a minute and a half into the third on a similar tip-in and then Dupuis gave the home side the lead with a shot that somehow found its way through The Monster.

For the second straight night, Carlyle came to the defence of his goalie.

“They were out-shooting us (by a ratio of) 2-1 at one point until we finally got some shots so you really can’t fault The Monster,” Carlyle said. “I thought he gave us a chance in the game. I’m sure he’d like to have the one goal back, but he gave us a pile of saves and we weren’t able to get the third goal to tie the hockey game.”

In a vote of confidence, the Leafs once again turned to Gustavsson. Carlyle was very clear Tuesday after the Leafs were beaten by the Boston Bruins that Gustavsson was not to blame. The coach said he was abandoned by his teammates.

It is clear the Maple Leafs believe Gustavsson, and not James Reimer, gives them the best chance to win at this stage of the season.

While Kessel has continued to score under Carlyle, his poor defensive play has been an issue. Carlyle, however, wasn’t willing to throw him under the bus.

“I think there’s work for our group; not just the Kessel line,” he said. “He scored again and you need offence to win in this league, but you also need defence and right now our mixture hasn’t been what is required for success in the last two games.”

Judging by the players’ reaction after the game, they are starting to get the coach’s message.

“In the second period we turned the puck over too many times and that’s when it gets tough,” said Gunnarsson.