Toronto’s big guns take down Jets
Winnipeg loses 4-1 to Leafs
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TORONTO — The Winnipeg Jets spent much of Wednesday’s media availability lamenting their recent play, specifically the last five games. One day later, they can add a sixth to the list.
The Jets lost a 4-1 decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday. The loss puts Winnipeg in an 0-2 hole to start their current five-game road trip and drops their overall record to 29-16-1.
Winnipeg ended the game tied with the Dallas Stars for first in the Central Division and Western Conference but could drop out of both spots by Friday morning. The Stars and Vegas Golden Knights, who are one point back of the Jets but compete in the Pacific Division, were both in action by press time.
“We say that good teams don’t lose two in a row and that’s two in a row,” said Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois. “We’ve looked at our past… games here, and it’s not the hockey that we’ve played all year that’s made us successful.”
The Leafs exploded for three goals in the second period, with Auston Matthews scoring twice and Mitch Marner adding another, creating a hole too deep for Winnipeg to climb out of. Mark Giordano rounded out the scoring for the home side with an empty-net marker, as the Leafs improved to 28-11-7.
Kyle Connor scored the lone goal for the Jets, who have now lost two straight and three of their last six after winning a season-high five in a row.
Let’s dig a little deeper into this one…
1) A big part of the Jets’ displeasure over their game recently has been their slow starts. Winnipeg struggled early against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, with the first period, despite ending scoreless, setting the tone in what ended in a 4-1 loss.
The opening 20 minutes wasn’t a problem in this one; in fact, the Jets dictated much of the frame, out chancing and outshooting the Leafs, 16-6. The Jets appeared to be in good shape entering the second, only for the wheels to come off by the end of the middle period.
Matthews made it 1-0 eight seconds in, sidestepping Mark Scheifele at the blue line before firing a shot through the five-hole of Connor Hellebuyck. Matthews was back at it minutes later, giving the home side a 2-0 lead with a shot from the slot for his 24th of the season.
Things would go from bad to worse as Marner made it 3-0 with a short-handed goal, firing a rocket past the glove of Hellebuyck with 6:11 remaining in the period. The play started with a giveaway by Scheifele at Toronto’s blue line, resulting in a 2-on-1 the other way, with Marner opting to keep, extending his home point streak to 20 games — a franchise record.
“To me, we gave them the first three goals; that’s all on us,” said Bowness. “You give those guys – Matthews and Marner – those chances, they’re going to score.”
2) Indeed, the biggest difference in this one was the Leafs’ big guns showed up to play and the Jets stars couldn’t match their performance.
While the likes of Matthews, Marner, William Nylander (one assist) and Morgan Reilly (one assist) combined for five points and were a plus-seven, the Jets best players were unable to carry the load for their group.
“It is something where you can’t spot their best players’ pucks inside the hash marks, as much as you can,” said Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt. “When you put yourself in a position where you’re putting their best guys there, it’s not a good recipe.”
The Jets top guys weren’t held off the scoresheet, they just needed a two-man advantage to find the back of net. Credit to Connor for what was a beautiful one-timer off a feed from Josh Morrissey (Scheifele also drew an assist), but that success never translated to 5-on-5 play. Scheifele, Connor, Dubois, Nikolaj Ehlers and Blake Wheeler – the Jets best forwards – were a combined minus-14.
3) Bowness decided to switch up his forward lines prior to the game with the hope of creating a spark.
The Jets’ secondary scoring had dried up recently, and so by moving Cole Perfetti from the second to the third line, alongside Adam Lowry and Saku Maenalanen; Morgan Barron from the third to the second line with Scheifele and Ehlers; and Wheeler jumping to the top trio with Connor and Dubois, the belief was it would be a more balanced top-nine.
It wouldn’t work out as planned and you have to wonder if making that many changes up front was a good idea against a solid Leafs team. That wasn’t something the locker room agreed with.
“No. We’re hockey players,” said Dubois. “If little things like that affect us, we have bigger problems.”
It’s unclear if the Jets will go back to the same line combinations against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. Bowness said he was happy with the level of improvement compared to Tuesday and felt they generated a fair amount of scoring opportunities.
“Their goalie, we couldn’t get that timely goal that I talked a lot about and their goalie made a lot of big saves for them,” said Bowness. “It was a much better effort, much better compete. If we can create that many scoring chances on Saturday, we got the goal-scorers, the puck will go in.”
4) There are likely a couple goals that Hellebuyck felt he could have played better, but the Jets netminder played well enough to give his team a chance to win. Dubois said as much after the game, noting the play of their goalie is a big reason the Jets have been able to mask some of the deficiencies in their game of late.
Hellebuyck finished with 23 saves on 26 shots, for an .885 save percentage, but he was asked to turn aside several quality chances all night. He was particularly good in the first and third periods, especially late in the game when the Jets had to cheat for offence, leaving Hellebuyck to bail his club out as the Leafs peppered him with shots in the dying minutes.
“Bucky gave us a chance to stay in it like he always does. We just got to find a way to get a little more offence,” said Dubois. “There’s a lot of things we can improve on. I don’t want to get into details here, but it’s a lot of things we can improve on as a team, 5-on-5, we want to attack with five and defend with five. I think we can do a lot better at that.”
It was announced after the game that Hellebuyck had been added to the NHL All-Star game as a result of being voted in by fans. It’s the third all-star game of his career. The 29-year-old is 22-11-1 this season, with a 2.41 goals-agaisnt average and a .924 save percentage, along with three shutouts.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
Updated on Friday, January 20, 2023 7:54 AM CST: Corrects that it was the third all-star game for Hellebuyck