It’s hard to be too critical of a team who just picked up two points on the road against the next-best team in the standings, but there were some things left to be desired in the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets at BellMTS Centre on Wednesday.
The Leafs came out with a lot of energy to start the game. In the first period, they generated ten high-danger scoring chances compared to zero by the Jets through 20 minutes, according to analytics website NaturtalStatTrick.com.
Rewarded for their effort, Auston Matthews opened the scoring for his league-leading 24th goal of the season at 4:40. He also collected the primary assist on Zach Hyman’s goal at 10:47.
Matthews’ goal was his third in as many games and perhaps the clearest sign that the worst of his wrist injury is behind him.
“It’s feeling a lot better so I can’t complain,” Matthews said. “It’s just been fun getting out there playing.”
The Leafs played so well in the opening frame at even strength that three power-play chances should have been the death knell to the Jets, a team that played its first game at home after a six-game road trip that spanned two weeks out west.
Instead, Toronto missed on the opportunity and generated just one total scoring chance with the man advantage.
“I think we’re not doing a very good job creating chances and getting looks,” Matthews said of the power play. “We switched some stuff around tonight and it didn’t really work.”
One of the changes saw Alex Galchenyuk get added to the second power-play unit, but it did little to spark any change as they went 0-for-5 on the night and has now missed on their last 24 chances.
The Jets started the second period without forward Blake Wheeler, who left the game with an undisclosed injury. The Jets went on the offensive and controlled the play for the frame.
The Jets had two consecutive power plays after Leafs defenseman TJ Brodie was assessed a double-minor for high sticking when he knocked out Paul Stastny’s tooth.
Toronto’s Alex Kerfoot took advantage of a turnover from Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey and scored in a breakaway that made it 3-0 at 16:40.
“I saw that he (Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck) was kind of back in his net and I just tried to get it off as quick as I could,” Kerfoot said.
It was Kerfoot’s first shorthanded goal in his career.
Morrissey atoned for the turnover by scoring on the same power-play chance at 7:15.
From there, the Leafs played defense and staved off the attack from the Jets.
“I thought we were defending a little too much, more than I would have liked to do in the third (period) there,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “There’s a lot of things you could pick out about that we could do better and we’ll certainly get to work on that tomorrow.”
Winnipeg and Toronto were fairly even in offensive-zone possession time, according to Sportlogiq. The edge for the Jets came from individual play. Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele finished with 1:04 and 1:01 of offensive-zone possession time, respectively. The top Leaf was defenseman Morgan Rielly at 0:34.
Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell rose to the occasion when relied upon. He made 26 saves and improved to 7-0-0 this season with a .948 save percentage. Campbell limited the second-chance opportunities with stellar rebound control.
Having missed the last game with his lingering lower-body injury, an issue that has plagued him all season long, Campbell has bought into the staff’s management of his ailment.
“I’m feeling good, we’re managing and the staff’s been great here, they’re taking care of me,” Campbell said. “Just staying on top of the body and hopefully ready for next game.”
With starting goaltender Frederik Andersen awaiting a follow-up examination on his lower-body injury on Thursday, the net is Campbell’s so long as he can stay healthy and perform well.
The Leafs improved to 49 points in 36 games and increased their lead on the North Division by three points over the Jets. Apart from jumping out to an early lead and the stellar play from Campbell, and Keefe didn’t have much good to say about his club.
The Jets were playing their first home game after a nearly two-week-long, six-game road trip out west.
“It was maybe a bit of a sloppy game for both teams as far as execution goes, they had a hard time getting a handle on that puck,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. “There was nothing in that game that made me feel like we were way off, but we weren’t as good as we’d been.”