Former Leafs Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood came back to haunt their old club with five points between them, as the Winnipeg Jets trounced the Leafs 5 – 2 on Tuesday night. Blake Wheeler scored two goals, while Ondrej Pavelec had a rare good showing with 24 saves for the victory. Phil Kessel scored both goals for Toronto, and now has nine on the season, and five in his last five games.
1. The Leafs 15 – 11 – 1, and appear to be regressing to the mean with three straight losses. They were heavily outshot again, with Reimer and Scrivens combining to face 34 shots, while the forwards could only manage 26. They were outchanced at 5-on-5, and couldn’t muster anything but two quick-strikes in the offensive zone, and could use neither brawn nor creativity to break through the Jets defense for a clear chance on goal. A lot of credit should be paid to this Jets team; they stymied the Leafs forwards by stepping in front of shots at every turn.
2. The Leafs were dreadful in the first, and lucky to only be down a goal. After former Leaf Nik Antropov made it 1 – 0 (with another former Leaf, Kyle Wellwood, tallying an assist), the Leafs seemed to hit a wall. The Bozak line was hemmed in their own zone on two consecutive shifts, leading to two prime scoring chances for the Jets. Being unable to get the puck out of the zone is an increasingly apparent problem, and it could be one that Jake Gardiner, with his clean, crisp outlet passes and heady play, could solve.
3. The first period was well seasoned with major infractions and misdemeanours, with both teams combining for 30 minutes of penalties in opening 20. It was accented by a now-rare fight from Dion Phaneuf, who scored a take down on Jets captain Andrew Ladd. Phaneuf didn’t appreciate getting a slew foot from Ladd, and it was nice to see the fire burn behind Dion’s eyes a little bit hotter. Colton Orr fought in his team-leading seventh fight, against Jets tough guy Chris Thorburn. The Leafs still lead the league in fighting majors, with 27 now.
4. The Leafs came into tonight’s game having killed 46 of their past 50 penalties, and while they surrendered a goal tonight, they were brilliant. They force teams to make a move at the blue line, and it’s a key to the unit’s success. No better was that witnessed that during the Phaneuf’s instigator penalty in the first period. Carlyle seemed to know that the Jets would try to enter the wide along the right wing, and stacked his forwards across the line. Jets’ players were either squeezed into the boards or if they sifted through the Leafs forwards, the D was playing high enough to provide puck support and break up the attack.
5. After being chided publically by Carlyle for his offensive drought this morning, Mikhail Grabovski was benched for much of the third period. He had two prime scoring chances in the second despite his limited ice, and getting absolutely robbed on the first one early. Say what you will about motivating players, but giving Grabovski the toughest checking assignment, complaining that he doesn’t score, and then sitting him half a period is just a baffling decision by Carlyle. Continuing on that perplexing trend, Grabovski took the opening faceoff for the third period. He finished with 12:23 minutes of ice time, and will – through no fault of his own – be tarred and feathered in the papers tomorrow.
6. 38 seconds into the second period, Phil Kessel causes a turnover at the Jets blueline, and walks in all alone to score on Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec. Kessel’s stick snapped on the release, and the puck sputtered and skipped through Pavelec to tie the game at ones. Unfortunately, Blake Wheeler restored the Jets lead just 25 seconds later, burying a fortuitous rebound into a wide-open net to make it 2 – 1.
7. The Leafs had a golden opportunity to tie up the game, with almost a full two minutes on a 5-on-3 power play. They were unsuccessful, with Pavelec absolutely robbing James van Riemsdyk, and the Jets PKers doing their Spartan best to step in front of Dion Phaneuf slap shots. Shortly thereafter, Kyle Wellwood finished a pretty feed from Dustin Byfuglien, for the 3 – 1 dagger.
8. Coming into the third down two goals, I was hoping to see the Leafs reclaim some of their cardiac third period heroics. In both the New Jersey and Pittsburgh games last week, the club managed to come from behind and secure points. Unfortunately, the Jets didn’t want any part of that, and instead flooded the neutral zone and in doing so neutered the Leafs attack off the rush. In general, the Jets outplayed the Leafs in the third, forcing the Leafs into committing turnovers. One of those turnovers led to an Evander Kane breakaway, where he made no mistake to give the Jets an insurmountable 4 – 1 lead.
9. Gotta feel bad for James Reimer tonight, beyond getting heckled by the lively MTS Centre crowd. After some recent shaky outings, Reimer was replaced by Ben Scrivens after allowing 4 goals on 28 shots in just more than 51 minutes of work tonight. While that doesn’t read well, he could hardly be faulted for a couple of those goals, it was another ugly showing. When the Leafs needed him to make one more save while down 3 – 1, he couldn’t. If I had to guess, he’ll be sat Thursday. Blake Wheeler scored his second of the game on his first shot on Scrivens, victimizing the defensively porous Bozak line once again.
10. The ‘let’s go Blue Jays’ chant in the final minute of play highlighted a disappointing performance from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Most of the forwards were invisible tonight, and they’ve now dropped three straight. This loss isn’t the end of the world, but the Leafs came into the game five points ahead of the ninth place Jets, and could have cleared seven points with a win. Parity makes everything dicier. The Leafs will be back at it Thursday when they close out their season series with Pittsburgh Penguins.