It’s time for another xG bloodbath between the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs. After a thieved win against the Leafs on Tuesday, the Jets decided to go back to the well and call upon Connor Hellebuyck’s magic glove once again for round 2. I had hoped that Winnipeg would look a bit more functional with Logan Stanley back in for the third pairing. Unfortunately, hope is a dangerous thing when it comes to the Jets and playing quality hockey.
The First Period
Winnipeg entered the night looking ready for a fight, but found the Leafs were a bit more cantankerous than they’d hoped. Toronto hit the Jets were speedy counters and immediately earned a William Nylander breakaway. Hellebuyck had to answer the bell scarcely 3 minutes in, robbing Nylander of a clear goalscoring opportunity. From then on, Toronto continued to pour on wave after wave of pressure. The Leafs tried everything, from tipped shots to point-blank backdoor feeds behind Hellebuyck. The Jets netminder stood tall and kept Toronto off the scoresheet.
Hilariously, Winnipeg finally got a bit of space and puck possession late in the period to start a counter. It was an incredibly rare sight; the Jets in firm control of the puck! The second line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Nikolaj Ehlers made the most of it, scoring a perfectly worked 2-on-1 to give the Jets a scrappy 1-0 lead. A completely Winnipeg period, all told.
The Second Period
Things did not improve on the “don’t let Toronto eviscerate your slot defense” front, with the Leafs carving Winnipeg up left and right. We all likely figured this would be the case after Tuesday’s game, but man is it frustrating to see the Jets struggle mightily. Even offensive zone possessions for Winnipeg died out quickly, with the blueline failing to adequately support the forwards. Toronto’s pressure paid off with a quick Mitch Marner goal, cleaning up the remnants of some busted Jets defensive coverages. Pionk and Forbort were doing...something behind the net and allowed Toronto to take up good passing positions. The Leafs took advantage and created netfront havoc that even Hellebuyck couldn’t defuse.
Against all odds, best Jet Ehlers managed to create a later 2-on-1 with Kyle Connor and scored his brace to put Winnipeg back in the driver’s seat. I say this with a bit of a knowing smile because the goal was, once again, completely against the run of play. Winnipeg was getting hammered but Hellebuyck was doing his best Superman impression to stave off sadness. The lead would hold until the intermission, at least.
The Third Period and OT
Winnipeg with a lead against the Leafs? Yeah, add that to the list of things not built to last. The Jets were creaking before but Toronto upped the pressure in the final 20 minutes to a nearly feverish degree. It paid off on what was honestly a sick goal from Nylander, courtesy of a picturesque feed from Tavares. Sometimes you have to tip your cap on a stellar effort, and this goal sequence was a thing of beauty.
Less tip-worthy was the next goal a few minutes later, courtesy of a Connor turnover by the net. Kyle lazily dumped it along the walls and a Leafs forward naturally snatched the puck. Stanley overcommitted in support, and the puckcarrier got the biscuit away to help set-up an Ilya Mikheyev goal. Ugly, man. As is often the case with the Jets, Hellebuyck kept the team within shooting distance of an OT period. The skaters answered in turn with a Paul Stastny goalie-pulled tip to force the extra time. What a team this is.
The OT period was pretty sure because Maurice thought matching Wheeler, Scheifele, and Stastny against Marner and Matthews would be wise. The move backfired after the Jets had a few rushes up-ice that resulted in missed passes. There was plenty of time in between to get Ehlers and Connor out there. Instead, the trio stayed on the ice and got roasted by Matthews to concede the second point. It’s extremely annoying to lose the extra point without seeing your fastest forwards in 3v3. At least Hellebuyck stole a salvaged result for us!
"Me, personally, I thought I stole a lot of goals tonight."— Mike McIntyre (@mikemcintyrewpg) March 12, 2021
God bless Connor Hellebuyck and his candour. Sportswriter's dream.
These games against Toronto are gonna be Full Clench the whole way through.
Winnipeg has gotten dummied for 2 straight games against the Leafs. Hellebuyck has been the only reason they’ve somehow earned 3 out of 4 points so far. The Jets get the Leafs for a third match-up on Saturday, and I can’t say I’m eager. Winnipeg hasn’t looked convincing at all in any of the games thus far.
The Jets may be looking to acquire David Savard.
The veteran D out of Columbus might not be a bad addition if he’s arriving on the cheap. He’s a solid, defensively-minded guy who could give the Jets a boost in the DZ with his physicality and smart reads. With how little the Jets let their blueliners activate, his lack of offensive contributions might not matter.