Say what you will about their play lately, but the Toronto Maple Leafs still sit atop the NHL’s North Division with the Winnipeg Jets nipping at their tails. Fittingly, the two teams faced-off against each other on Thursday night in Winnipeg with only two more meetings between them before the season comes to a close in May.
With so many storylines hovering around this matchup, there were a number of takeaways as the Maple Leafs escaped with a 5-3 win. And while we can’t touch on every little bit of information, here are some the biggest notes worth mentioning from the Jets-Maple Leafs game.
Matthews, Simmonds Give Leafs Early Lead
What better way to start the game than score two goals on two shots just 1:18 into the first period. That’s exactly how the Maple Leafs started this game – and just what the team needed to get things going after a tough offensive performance against the Vancouver Canucks earlier in the week.
It’s safe to say that Connor Hellebuyck looked shaky to start the game, but the Maple Leafs – to their credit – took full advantage. It started with Auston Matthews opening the scoring just 27 seconds into the first frame – the ninth time he’s opened the scoring this season and his NHL-leading 34th of the year. That was followed up by Wayne Simmonds making a good play on his backhand just 51 seconds player to put his club up 2-0 early.
It was Simmonds’ seventh of the season and first goal since April 5 against Calgary. That said, it’s often said that a two-goal lead is the worst in hockey and the Maple Leafs needed a lot more from both their offensive threats as well as Jack Campbell in net to secure the win on Thursday night.
Campbell Back in the Win Column
After starting the season with a record 11 wins in a row, Campbell had lost three straight – including two in regulation. His numbers had spiked giving up nine goals on just 54 shots over the three game slide and he looked far less confident than when he was on his personal win streak.
That said, with Frederik Andersen still out with an injury and David Rittich’s play also being subpar this season, the bulk of the work has still landed on the shoulders of Campbell and on Thursday he slid back into the win column with the support of the team in front of him.
Like Hellebuyck, Campbell looked shaky in the first period, especially. The defence wasn’t playing incredibly well in front of him, but the saving grace was the team’s ability to break out of their defensive end more times than not.
Still Campbell was able to make 34 saves on 37 shots, giving up three goals to earn his 12th win in 15 games played this season. If nothing else, he’s been a solid replacement for Andersen so far this season and continues to give the Maple Leafs a chance to win – bulking up his win total over that time as well.
Foligno’s Make Maple Leafs’ Debut
As for the Maple Leafs’ biggest deadline acquisition – Nick Foligno – he made his debut for the team on Thursday in Winnipeg and got the start on the top line with Matthews and Mitch Marner.
After sitting out due to quarantine reasons, Foligno played just over 16 minutes for the Maple Leafs – including almost a minute and a half of penalty killing time and adding three hits and an assist on the Marner empty netter to close out the game.
Donning his father’s hat from the 1993 Maple Leafs’ season and his dad’s number 71 in blue and white, Foligno was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets heading into the NHL’s Trade Deadline in the hopes that he can bring leadership, toughness and grit to a Maple Leafs squad that is hoping to make a run this postseason. As for the offence – in this case an assist – that’s a bonus for a player who is all heart like Foligno.
All in all, he should consider his debut with the team a success based on what he was able to contribute at both ends of the ice.
Sandin Stepping In
As for the continued youth movement in Toronto, Rasmus Sandin found himself in the Maple Leafs’ lineup once again on Thursday and Sheldon Keefe didn’t hold the kid back.
He played 13:23 in the game – only Travis Dermott played fewer minutes on the Maple Leafs’ back end – but it’s worth noting he saw 1:26 of power play time. That number was more than any other Maple Leafs’ defenceman, including Morgan Rielly who saw just 34 seconds of power play time in this one.
It is expected that Sandin could be the fill-in until Zach Bogosian returns from injury. That said, he should consider this a tryout as he could force the team’s hand when Bogosian returns if he plays better than others on the team’s blue line.
Also Worth Noting…
Jets’ Blake Wheeler was back in the lineup after suffering a concussion on a hit from Brady Tkachuk a couple weeks ago. He finished with an assist in just under 20 minutes of play.
Joe Thornton almost became the older Maple Leafs’ player to score a goal, but it was eventually changed to Jason Spezza who continues to have an impressive season with 10 goals and 23 points in 45 points this season.
Nick Robertson was removed from the Maple Leafs’ lineup. With one more game, Robertson burns a year on his entry-level deal, which could be playing into the team’s choice to keep him out. Still, it’s more likely that the team is just overloaded when it comes to forwards.
While Ilya Mikheyev skated in morning skate, he remained out of the lineup on Thursday dealing with an injury. He’s still considered day-to-day.
As for the Maple Leafs and Jets, they remain separated by just six points in the North Division, with the Jets having a game in hand. That said, these two clubs will meet again two more times before the end of the season, including their ninth meeting of the season on Saturday.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.