Jets and Maple Leafs: Different Results From Similar Road Trips

Both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Winnipeg Jets recently completed trips to the West Coast that were filled with similarities yet yielded much different results. Both teams played well below expectations yet one team was somehow able to find success on the scoresheet. Here are four takes comparing the teams’ recent trips to Southern California.

Sheldon Keefe Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs recent road trip was was highlighted by poor team play. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Leafs actually started their recent five-game road trip against the Jets, who then followed them out west on a three-game swing of their own. Both teams played inconsistent and at times dreadful, but it was the Jets who came home with five out of a possible six points, while the Leafs managed only four points out of the 10 that were available to them.

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The Maple Leafs’ Poor Play

The game in Winnipeg on Oct. 22 was the first and only victory the Maple Leafs managed. The 4-1 victory, a result I incorrectly predicted, seemed to signal the start of a positive turnaround from a less-than-impressive start to the season. Instead, it was merely a blip on the radar. They lost the remaining four games on the trip, managing only two points on two overtime losses to the lowly San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks who had, up to that time, combined for only three wins.

“Something has to give after the Toronto Maple Leafs returned home from an ugly road trip where they lost four of five games to some of the worst teams in the NHL. Right now, nothing is working for them. The stars aren’t producing the way they’re supposed to, the defence is allowing far too many chances and the goalies aren’t bailing them out like they were in the past.”

– Michael Traikos (from “TRAIKOS: From firing the coach to firing the GM, here’s five ways to fix the Maple Leafs, Toronto Sun, 31/10/2022)

With a record of 4-4-2 some would argue that after 10 games last season, the Leafs had a similar record at 5-4-1 and everything worked out pretty well for them… until the playoffs. The sad reality of the situation this season is that of their six losses, only the Los Angeles Kings made the playoffs last year. They’ve lost to three of the worst teams in the NHL this season in the Sharks, Ducks, and Arizona Coyotes.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Embarrassing Road Trip Shows a Lack of Identity

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In their last game against the Ducks, the worst team in the league, they squandered a 3-1 lead in the third period giving up three consecutive goals, including the winner in overtime. The loss had the team, fans, and media ringing the alarm bells.

The Jets’ Poor Play

The Jets played the Kings, Coyotes, and Vegas Golden Knights, and played some ugly hockey of their own. Not in one of those games did they play well enough to deserve a win. They were heavily dominated by their opponents at times but unlike the Leafs, managed to somehow win two out of the three and sneak home with five out of a possible six points.

Rick Bowness Winnipeg Jets
Rick Bowness knows the Jets’ transformation is a work in progress. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

In all three games the Jets had sluggish starts and looked nothing like the team that head coach Rick Bowness has been trying to transform. They played slow and inconsistent, reverting back to their old style of hockey from last season which was a major reason they missed the playoffs. Bowness has been professing speed and being hard to play against, yet in none of the games on this trip were the Jets hard to play against.

“We continue to have to get out of some habits that we keep throwing at ourselves. The way we get started in games isn’t good enough in this league and things are only going to get tougher as we move forward. It’s not gonna be easy coming back in games like we’re trying to do every night. As a group, we have to be a lot better at the start”

– Jets’ Associate Head Coach Scott Arniel, following the Jets’ loss to the Golden Knights

The Jets played as equally uninspired hockey as the Leafs. Their top forwards weren’t scoring and their defensive zone coverage was unacceptable. The two teams looked eerily alike, minus the fact that the Jets earned points in every game.

Similarities Between the Jets and Maple Leafs

Last season Auston Matthews and Kyle Connor combined for 107 goals. Thus far this season they have combined for four; Matthews has three and Connor scored an empty net goal in the first game of the season. In 2021-22 Matthews scored on 17% of his shots, while Connor scored on 15% of his, and this year they are both scoring on only 3% of the shots they take. While some pundits predicted Matthews would score 70 goals, many also had Connor cracking the 50-goal plateau this season. At this point, it might be safe to suggest neither is likely going to happen.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

And while both teams’ top snipers floundered, their defensive structure wasn’t much better. This season the Leafs have allowed 107 high-danger scoring chances (HDC) against their goaltenders, second worst in the NHL behind only the Ducks. The Jets are no better having allowed 104 themselves and are currently third worst in the league. That’s a dismal number considering it was an area they said they were going to clean up this season.

Lack of offense by their top scorers and lack of overall team defense was a definite theme for both teams, but there was one significant disparity between the two clubs. Goaltending.

The Difference Between the Jets and Maple Leafs

The Jets were simply bailed out by goaltender Connor Hellebuyck in both games that he started. The Maple Leafs goalies didn’t “steal” games like Hellebuyck did. After the overtime loss to the Golden Knights Arniel stated, “We’ll take the five points but the L.A. game was a lot like tonight, the goaltender had to stand on his head for most of the evening. We’ll take the points and get out of here.” He later stated, “I understand why he won the Vezina,” referring to the Vezina Trophy Hellebuyck won in 2020 as the NHL’s top goaltender. “We’re hoping that we can build our defensive game, and our all around game where he doesn’t have to face so much rubber.”

Connor Hellebuyck Winnipeg Jets
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While Hellebuyck was able to win his two starts almost single-handedly, netminder Ilya Samsonov wasn’t able to respond the same way for the Maple Leafs. In his first three starts, he was brilliant with three wins and a save percentage (SV%) of .938. In his two starts on the west coast, that SV% dropped to .887 and wasn’t enough to prevent two losses. With the injury to Matt Murray, Samsonov has been a saviour for the Maple Leafs, but on this trip, like the rest of the team, he was not up to the expected standards.

Related: Jets’ Resilience and Over-Reliance on Goalies Headline 3-Game Road Trip

The Jets and Maple Leafs both will look to improve this week as they each have three-game home stands where they can rectify their game. The difference is one team is looking to extend a four-game point streak, while the other is trying to snap a four-game losing streak. And while they both are happy to return home, the Jets luckily find themselves tied for first in the Central Division, while the Maple Leafs sit near the bottom of the Atlantic. A place the Jets are fortunate not to find themselves in too.