The age-old advice ‘work smarter, not harder,’ has stood the test of time. On Thursday night the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs (23-14-5) personified that counselling, torching the Winnipeg Jets (22-16-3) for six goals on just 28 shots, ultimately beating the home team 6-3 in a game in which they were outshot by 20.
The red-hot Maple Leafs showed up to play at Bell MTS Place Thursday, in the only meeting between the two Canadian clubs in Manitoba this season. The game was actually the first of two games between the inter-conference rivals in a span of six days. The Jets travel to Toronto to face the Leafs on Wednesday, January 8.
William Nylander had two goals and one assist, while Kasperi Kapanen and Alexander Kerfoot also had multi-point nights for Toronto. Patrik Laine had 13 shots on goal for Winnipeg, blowing his previous career high (eight) out of the water. Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor each had a goal and an assist for the Jets in a losing effort.
“The Jets put a lot of pucks at the net,” Leafs’ captain John Tavares said. “I think we had a really good first period and then obviously a really slow start to the second and Freddie really kept it tight. Obviously, we gave up a couple of goals, they got one of them off the power play, but we were then able to recapture the lead and do a lot of good things and really possess the puck really well.”
Hold for a mid-first period Winnipeg power play, the opening frame was all Toronto, as the visitors got things started early.
Winnipeg product Adam Brooks once again got the nod from head coach Sheldon Keefe, drawing into the Leafs’ lineup for the third time in his career, and first time in his hometown. Keefe showed a nice gesture, giving Brooks the nod for the opening faceoff, alongside John Tavares and William Nylander.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound forward found his first career point early into the game, as he set up Nylander with a feed from behind the net, who in-turn spun and fired it five hole past Connor Hellebuyck, bringing the hordes of Leafs fans to their feet. Toronto added another goal as Kasperi Kapanen walked by Luca Sbisa before ripping another shot between Hellebuyck’s legs.
The Maple Leafs hit three posts and added two goals in the first period, despite trailing on the shot clock 14-8 after the game’s first 20 minutes. The second period provided a hefty slope in the ice to the Leafs net, yet the visitors came out on top once again, pumping another three goals past Hellebuyck, despite being outshot 23-9 in the frame.
Winnipeg began the period with two quick strikes off the sticks of Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine. With Jason Spezza in the box for delay of game, Connor walked in and fired a wrist shot low blocker side for his seventh goal in his past five games. Later, Laine walked Morgan Rielly, collected his own rebound and fired the puck past Freddy Andersen, momentarily tying the game at twos.
The Leafs responded with two goals in 1:16, as Travis Dermott and Pierre Engvall restored Toronto’s two-goal advantage. Mark Scheifele then took matters into his own hands, firing a wrist shot past Andersen on a zone entry with seven minutes to play. But just four minutes later on a Leafs power play Mitch Marner scored Toronto’s fifth goal of the game, on just the 17th shot by the visitors.
In an opening 40 minutes that saw the Jets average just under one shot per minute and the Leafs average a goal on every third shot, Toronto came out for the final period up by a couple, adding just one more goal in the third. Winnipeg came out with a few face between the pipes, as Hellebuyck was relieved by Laurent Brossoit after allowing five goals on 17 shots. The Jets’ backup stopped 10 of the 11 shots he faced in the third period.
Nylander found his second goal of the game and 19th of the season on the heels of a very pretty offensive zone passing play by the Leafs. Tavares and Kerfoot played keep-away in the slot, before finding Nylander, who collected a strong pass and fired it past Brossoit, helping double up the hometown Jets.
Frederik Andersen, who heard multiple ‘Freddy’ chants throughout Bell MTS Place Thursday, turned aside 45 shots in the victory – his league-leading 21st win of the season.
“I thought we were better in the third, actually,” Andersen said. “I thought we really pulled together there and made it hard on them. Especially because they were obviously trying to come back in the game with them being down. So, I thought we did a really good job in the third. Again, we were really sharp early on and obviously made really good defensive plays. Obviously, it was a lot of shots but not a lot of danger, I think.”
Winnipeg will now travel back to Minnesota for another afternoon contest against the Wild, before flying east to face the Montreal Canadiens, the Leafs and then the Boston Bruins next week. The game against Toronto can be viewed live on Sportsnet, while the other three contests will be available on TSN. Puck drop against the Wild is set for 1:00 PM central on Saturday.