TORONTO — The offense has always been the calling card of these Toronto Maple Leafs. Of course, there’s no better opportunity to use a potent attack than by cashing in on the power play.
On Monday night, the Maple Leafs defeated the Winnipeg Jets 3-1 at Scotiabank Arena. After a dull opening frame where both teams fired ten shots on goal apiece, the Maple Leafs went on the power play when Jets defenseman Sami Niku went off for holding at 3:33 of the second period.
Toronto fired 12 shots toward the net with that man advantage. Nine made it on goal, while one beat Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck for a 1-0 lead.
“When you create opportunities and you’re able to retrieve pucks, you get them tired and get those open looks,” John Tavares said of the goal that broke the deadlock.
It was Toronto’s only power play of the evening, but the team now has at least one goal with the man-advantage in all four games played this season.
Perhaps if Toronto had more power-play chances, they might have put the Jets away earlier in the game. But Winnipeg lingered thanks to Kyle Connor’s goal at 19:13 of the second period, just 34 seconds after Toronto made it 2-0 on goal from Mitch Marner.
“I think we’ve definitely seen progress in a lot of areas,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “I’m fairly confident we’re going to have a number of things to discuss where we can continue to get better.”
In the first period, Toronto was set for a power play after Connor had skated with full speed into Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen.
Wanting to stand up for his teammate, Justin Holl came to Andersen’s defense by shoving Connor repeatedly in Toronto’s net. Holl received a roughing penalty, negating the power-play opportunity for Toronto.
“You have to let him know that it was unacceptable,” Andersen said. “I think it’s a good signal to send if they’re going to come that close.”
Perhaps it’s the decision to get a little too rough, or the lack of additional power plays for Toronto, but it’s not surprising Keefe was cautious after his team improved to 3-1-0 this season.
Toronto hasn’t had a dominant scoring rout against an opponent this season. For two periods, the Leafs dominated the Jets. Toronto’s five-on-five possession in those 40 minutes was 68 percent compared to 32 percent from Winnipeg.
It’s understandable why Keefe wasn’t ready to shower his team with praise given a few errors, like the coverage that led to Winnipeg’s goal.
“We’re trying to get better as a team and it’s moments like that allow us to reflect and talk about it,” Keefe said. “It didn’t cost us anything today, it made it harder for us in the third period, part of that is good.”
“That’s where we need to grow and we’ll take our lessons here along the way.”
Toronto did send one clear message to the rest of the North Division: Avoid giving Toronto a power play. That 1:55 of video footage against the Jets will should be studied vigorously by any penalty kill scout team.
Toronto’s Penalty Kill
The Jets had four power plays, including two in the third period. But Toronto killed them off successfully. Much has been about veteran Jason Spezza’s role in taking defensive zone faceoffs. He was 6-0 in the faceoff circle through two periods before falling to 1-4 in the third period.
After clearing waivers on Monday, Spezza is eligible to be sent down to the team’s taxi squad. So long as Spezza is effective at the fourth-line center role while winning faceoffs, I expect him to stay in the lineup. But I also see the Leafs making paper transactions where he is sent to the taxi squad on off days to ensure both forward Alexander Barabanov and defenseman Mikko Lehtonen stay on the active roster to receive maximum league-level pay.
Andersen Bounces Back
After backup goaltender Jack Campbell picked up a win in his season debut on Saturday, the focal point went right back to starting goaltender Frederik Andersen, who had given up nine goals in his first two starts.
Andersen performed well on Monday. He didn’t give up many rebounds and had the poise reminiscent of his better games from previous seasons.
“Freddy’s one of the best in the league and we have so much faith in him,” Tavares said. “I know the big saves he’s going to make and we only want to make it easier for him.”
Andersen improved to 10-0-2 against the Jets in his career.