After a rousing come-from-behind win against the Calgary Flames, Winnipeg was then tasked with downing the Toronto Maple Leafs. Some have tabbed Toronto to be the best team in Canada (though I think Montreal should get this nod). For the Jets, that usually doesn’t portend great things, what with the poor defensive depth and absence of Patrik Laine due to injury. Would Winnipeg best the so-called top team in the North, or would the Jets hit an early skid on the tarmac?
The First Period
Much like Winnipeg’s start against Calgary last week, the Jets looked slow out of the gate against Toronto. The Leafs read every single defensive zone exit and continually hemmed the Jets in for long stretches at a time, wearing down Winnipeg’s defenders. The Jets struggled to create offensive counters in transition, owing to how often they were pinned in their own end. I don’t really understand why Winnipeg continually wraps the puck around the boards on exits. Every team knows that’s the gameplan and seals the walls off near the blueline. Change it up, guys!
The Leafs racked up a few decent scoring opportunities but Connor Hellebuyck looked more like his last-season self, keeping the scoreline tied at 0-0. The Jets mustered a couple of point shots here and there, but nothing to seriously trouble Andersen. Considering how much offensive possession Toronto had, the Jets were fortunate not to be down.
The Second Period
You’d think a slow start would kick the Jets into overdrive, but instead, Winnipeg got absolutely plastered for 20 minutes. Toronto, which actually got slower in the off-season, used rapid puck movement to slice and dice Jets coverages all over the ice. Winnipeg’s top line looked like it was skating through cement and the middle-6 unit struggled to carry the offensive burden. About the only positive note was that Hellebuyck was still looking very sharp.
Unfortunately, even Helly is mortal sometimes, and an early power play gave the Leafs a 1-0 lead. Busted coverages from Neal Pionk and Derek Forbort allowed John Tavares to walk into the slot unimpeded. Not ideal! Toronto then padded the lead late on a loose puck Mitch Marner was about to pounce on. It was a deserved lead, all told. The Jets did finally respond off of a glorious feed from Forbort, who found Kyle Connor streaking in on the left side. Both teams exited the period at 2-1.
The Third Period
This was probably Winnipeg’s best period on the night, though I use “best” a bit loosely here. They had some good-looking power plays late into the period. Unfortunately, none of them hit paydirt and Toronto added an empty net goal to seal the win. This felt like a loss from the earlier half of last season, where the Jets couldn’t get anything going. There should be legitimate questions about the top-6, especially, “Where the heck was the top line???”
This team without Laine is worse.
I don’t think anyone can really argue this point, but Laine’s absence was especially noticeable. What will surprise some is that his even-strength playmaking was particularly missed. He was a force against Calgary, and could have been a major difference in tonight’s game. So it goes.
The top line is kind of busted.
Scheifele and Wheeler were just plain bad. I can’t say that many of Winnipeg’s offensive skaters were great, but those two are getting huge minutes in major roles. Both were nearly invisible at times, and it’s continuing some worrying trends from the last few seasons. Wheeler just doesn’t seem like he can keep up anymore, and Scheifele is a bit of a question mark. What is going on with our frickin’ first-line centre?
The defense...still needs help!
Winnipeg turned to debutant Logan Stanley for the evening. He and Nathan Beaulieu were....not great. It wasn’t an atrocious debut or anything, but Stanley just doesn’t have the acceleration and improvisation needed to make it out of dangerous situations. When he has time and space to make passes, he’s fine. At this level, though, those opportunities don’t come often. Sami Niku got promoted to the top-pair with Josh Morrissey and had some decent moments, but we’re definitely missing DeMelo up top. The Jets are very thin on the back-end, and if the forwards can’t pick up the slack, this could be another rough season.