Tonight, a critical two-game series gets underway as the North Division’s first-place Maple Leafs face off against the second-place Winnipeg Jets, who are one point behind Toronto, rolling offensively, and winners of four of their last five (7:30 p.m. EST, Sportsnet)
As has been customary for Jets hockey in recent years, Winnipeg hasn’t dominated their opponents at five-on-five, but they are built on very strong goaltending and an opportunistic offense. Winnipeg spends a significantly greater amount of time in their own end than Toronto does, and yet they’re just behind the Leafs‘ points pace thanks to high-end goaltending, a top-five power play, and an ability to convert 5v5 shots into goals at an above-average clip.
While the Jets hover over 30% on the power play in the month of March, the Leafs, while they continue to gain the zone consistently and move the puck well, have not produced a high enough volume of shots on goal on the man advantage as of late.
Amid the scoreless slump on the power play over their last eight games (0-for-18) that dates back to March 10, the Leafs are 20th in the NHL in shots for per 60 on the power play after leading the NHL in the category prior to the dip. What’s interesting about the rest of the numbers, though: Toronto is still top five in expected goals, scoring chances, and high-danger chances per 60 during their dry spell.
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That is likely a big part of why Sheldon Keefe continues to be encouraged by the process, although the calls to fully load the top unit (with both William Nylander and John Tavares) are growing louder by the day. Regardless of who is out there with who and for how long, the Leafs do have to get more pucks on net, as it might take an ugly one to get the man advantage rolling again.
In the Leafs net, Jack Campbell, after taking a game and a practice off earlier this week, will return tonight as the Leafs continue to handle his nagging injury situation with an abundance of caution. Veini Vehvilainen and Michael Hutchinson have traveled with the team to Winnipeg, and the latter will back up tonight.
With a team .880 save percentage in their last 10 games over all situations, it will be crucial for Campbell to stabilize the crease — as he has in all of his starts this season — against an opponent with the most lethal top six the Leafs will encounter in this regular season and a goaltender across the way that has given the Leafs headaches in the season series (2-2-0) despite Toronto’s territorial control over the matchups at 5v5.
Connor Hellebuyck is 4-1 in his last five games and has only allowed seven goals in those contests. This season, he is 17-9-2 with a .918 Sv% and a GSAx of 9.6.
Stats — Last 10 Games
- Dylan Demelo leads the Jets with a 60.8% xG rating — Logan Stanley is their only other defenseman over 50% (53%).
- All of the Jets primary five forwards — Schiefele, Wheeler, Stastny, Dubois, Ehlers, and Connor — are producing over 2.5 xG/60 at five-on-five.
- In his five games with the Maple Leafs, Alex Galchenyuk leads the team with 67% xG share and a 62% shot attempt share.
- John Tavares leads the Maple Leafs in individual shot attempts and xGoals/60
- The Jets team save-percentage in all situations is .923%, while Toronto’s is .880%
- The Leafs have greatly outplayed the Jets at five-on-five; Toronto has a 58% xG share while the Jets are only at 49%
All stats are score and venue adjusted and sourced from evolving-hockey.com
Game Day Quotes
Paul Maurice on moving Pierre-Luc Dubois away from Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers, the players he spent most of his first few weeks in Winnipeg with:
Going back to when we first acquired Pierre-Luc, that was one of the combinations that you have that you’d like to see. There was the end of a road trip and [we wanted] a bit of a change to see if we could spark something. I wanted to be careful about changing [Dubois]’s line because, after game one of the Vancouver set, I really, really liked where they were at. In the two Edmonton games as well, I liked what they were doing, and then it just kind of levelled off.
I thought for a while there that Schiefele’s line was grinding and playing hard, but there wasn’t a whole lot going on, so that was the other part. You’ve got to give your team the best chance to win every night but you also have to understand your team by the time the regular season’s over.
We see such different styles of hockey in this division. [The] Vancouver and Calgary [games] had been very straight-line, almost every puck [was] dumped, with really physical battles at both ends. The Toronto and Edmonton series have so much danger off the rush, so you need to kind of get through these games with an idea of what changes could you make to your lines when you get into a series and something isn’t working.
We need to learn more about this team — with Pierre-Luc, I’d like to leave it for a while and see where it goes.
Sheldon Keefe on whether he feels uncertain about his team’s goaltending at the moment:
Yeah, a little bit. Certainly, when it comes to Jack’s situation, it’s kind of a day-to-day thing. He’s progressed well and it seems that when he has time to recover from his recent games, he does bounce back and feel good, so there’s less of a concern there. It is something we have to manage. You have to be responsible with it as a staff and be smart with it. He’s got to be honest and tell us exactly how he’s feeling.
Keefe on the Jets’ forwards:
They have lots of depth and they use four lines very effectively. [They] have three lines that can score and a fourth line that has been contributing as well, does a good job defensively, and they trust them. From a forward perspective, they’re a very deep team that’s playing strong team defense with strong goaltending, so there’s a lot of things that present challenges from them as a team.
Keefe on how he feels Zach Bogosian has fit in this season while playing all but one game:
I wouldn’t say I’m surprised about his durability. I didn’t have a lot of concerns about that going into the season — he’s played well. Like a lot of our guys, he’s had some nights that have not gone well for him, but I think for the most part, he’s bounced back from those and he’s showed great consistency for us in playing the role we need from him: being physical, defending efficiently, and helping us on the penalty kill.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Alex Galchenyuk – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#97 Joe Thornton – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #19 Jason Spezza
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #47 Pierre Engvall – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 T.J Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #22 Zach Bogosian
#36 Jack Campbell (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Extras: Martin Marincin, Alexander Barabanov, Timothy Liljegren, Adam Brooks, Scott Sabourin, Veini Vehvilainen
Injured: Frederik Andersen
Winnipeg Jets Projected Lines
#25 Paul Stastny – #13 Pierre-Luc Dubois – #26 Blake Wheeler
#81 Kyle Connor – #55 Mark Schiefele – #27 Nikolaj Ehlers
#9 Andrew Copp – #17 Adam Lowry – #82 Mason Appleton
#95 Mathieu Perreault – #11 Nate Thompson – #23 Trevor Lewis
#44 Josh Morrisey – #3 Tucker Poolman
#24 Derek Forbort – #4 Neal Pionk
#64 Logan Stanley – #2 Dylan Demelo
#37 Connor Hellebuyck (starter)
#30 Laurent Brossoit