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Recap: Toronto Maple Leafs @ Winnipeg Jets

Jan 27, 2024; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) pokes the puck to Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey (44) chased by Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Ryan Reaves (75) in the first period at Canada Life Centre. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

With one game before the NHL’s All-Star break, the Winnipeg Jets were hoping to pull out of a mini-nose dive to end their 2 game losing streak against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canada Life Centre was packed to the rafters with a mix of Jet and Leafs fans filling the seats on Saturday night, so let’s find out what they witnessed.

The first opened up with Toronto controlling the flow of play as they took an early 4 to 1 lead in the shot department. However, it was Winnipeg who struck first when a Samberg wrister from the point made its way through the a maze of bodies to beat a screened Samsonov. The Jets took a hit though, when Dillon went to the dressing room after less than 2 minutes of ice-time, making the home team short-handed on the blueline for the second straight game. Both Hellebuyck and the Leafs’ tender stopped some quality shots as the period played out and it looked like Winnipeg would escape with a lead. However, in the last minute of play, the Jets fell apart when a Bucky pokecheck went straight to a Maple Leaf and eventually ended up in his net after a Reaves deflection. Thirty seconds later, Toronto appeared to take the lead when Bertuzzi batted the puck in from the net-side. But, the refs felt that Nylander interfered with Winnipeg’s goalie so they waived it off. Since there is absolutely no risk in sending the Jets’ PP onto the ice, Toronto opted to challenge the call and the NHL HQ surprisingly upheld the on-ice decision (Nylander was initially slightly bumped by DeMelo and he used this as an excuse to make contact with Bucky in the crease. DeMelo then seriously cross-checked Nylander in the back resulting in further contact with the goalie, so the call could have gone either way).

The second frame saw play continue to be fairly even, despite the appearance that Toronto was playing at a higher rate of speed & intensity. It also witnessed the continued ineptness of Winnipeg’s powerplay units as they failed to capitalize on three straight man-advantages. The Jets were getting their scoring looks in the game, but the team remained scoring-impaired as Samsonov kept the puck out of his net. Hellebucyk was also busy at times and made quite a few top-notch saves, including a robbery off Robertson in the low slot. MoneyPuck had the Deserve to Win meter at 51.5% for Toronto after two periods and their shot chart shows the game was fairly equal at that point (though the Jets were giving up more low slot chances than typical).

Toronto came out flying to start the 3rd period and Winnipeg was stuck defending their zone for a couple shifts. The pressure ended with the Jets’ first penalty of the game and the Leafs showed Winnipeg fans that NHL teams can actually score a goal with a man-advantage when Tavares tipped a Rielly point shot by Hellebuyck. The officials gave the home team another chance to even up the game with a 4th powerplay, but the best chance during the 2 minutes came off a Nylander SH breakaway. The game was sealed when the refs called the Jets for a penalty on for a slash that gave the Leafs a 5 on 3 advantage (the stick broke well after the slash, so not sure how the refs connected the two incidents). Of course, Matthews scored his 40th goal of the season with the extra space and then one of Toronto’s defensemen added an empty netter when Bowness pulled Bucky. Winnipeg made it 4 to 2 with a late push that finally saw Appleton put another puck behind Samsonov, but a poor third period & terrible powerplays doomed the home squad in this one.


Game Observations:

  • While it always leaves a bad taste in the mouth when Winnipeg loses to Toronto and when you add being on a 3 game losing streak as well, it doesn’t feel any better. I do think the fans should remember how consistent this team has been this season. All the top NHL teams have had their down periods. Here are the losing streaks over two games from the other top NHL teams this season: Boston:  Two 3 game losing streaks & one 4 game streak. Vancouver:  No losing streak longer than 2 games and had two of those. Colorado:  One 3 game losing streak. Florida:  One 4 game losing streak. Dallas:  One 3 game losing streak. Vegas:  One 3 game losing streak & one 4 game streak. Winnipeg:  Three 3 game losing streaks.
  • I don’t think anyone will disagree when I say that your team is in trouble when Mason Appleton is your go-to sniper. The inability to score on the powerplay has magnified Winnipeg’s lack of 5 on 5 scoring lately. In the last 5 games, Appleton has 3 goals, while Vilardi, Connor (EN), Ehlers, Pionk, & Samberg have the other Jet goals.
  • I don’t want to make excuses for the recent losses, but guess I sorta will when I point out that the Jets were pretty much forced to play the last two games with only 5 defensemen. Kind of big in game losses when you consider the minutes Josh Morrissey typically munches and the physicality Brenden Dillon brings.
  • The Manitoba Moose ended a hard to watch 11 game losing streak last night (0-10-1) when they beat Rockford 5 to 3. Kristian Reichel picked up the eventual winner with a snipe, while Parker Ford (G/A) and Brad Lambert (2A) had multi-point games in the victory. Defensemen Simon Lundmark and Ville Heinola added the other Moose goals, giving Heinola 2 goals and 2 assists in his 6 AHL games this season. AHL rookie Lambert (5th in rookie pts %) is putting up similar numbers at the same age as Kyle Connor did with the Manitoba Moose….KFC had 25 goals & 44 pts in 52 games for a 0.481 goal percentage and a 0.846 point percentage, while Lambo has 12 goals & 27 pts in 31 games for a 0.388 goal percentage and a 0.871 point percentage.   If he can keep up that trajectory, Lambert will be quite the addition to the Jets in the near future….if he isn’t foolishly traded first.

The Winnipeg Jets are now off until February 6th, which will hopefully give everyone some time to heal up. It is crazy to think the Jets have had their full lineup for less than FIVE games this season. Here’s hoping for a healthier finish to the year. When the team does return, they have a three game set against Pennsylvanian NHL teams (Pittsburgh/Philadelphia).

Connor Hellebuyck & Kyle Connor will be off to the All-Star festivities in Toronto and hopefully the latter can re-find his scoring touch surrounded by all that talent.

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