The Toronto Maple Leafs were coming off three consecutive losses entering their game against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday – two against the Vancouver Canucks followed by one against these said Jets earlier in the week. It was the first time under head coach Sheldon Keefe that the Maple Leafs had lost three in a row and the Jets were slowly creeping up on Toronto in the NHL’s North Division standings.
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That said, Thursday’s game held a different outcome for the Maple Leafs, who stole the extra point from the Jets with a 4-3 overtime win. While the Jets were still able to grab a point, the two points were big for the Maple Leafs in the overall standings.
But it wasn’t just the two points that could be taken away from this game. In fact, here’s a look at some of the key takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ victory.
Battling Back With a Full 60
While their previous outing wasn’t a favourable one for the Maple Leafs, despite the effort put forth, Thursday’s night could once again have gone either way. The fact is, the Maple Leafs have run into a tough team that could be their biggest test in the North Division – especially if Connor Hellebuyck plays the way he has over the past two games.
It was just their third of 10 games against the Jets this season and Hellebuyck already has some solid numbers against the Maple Leafs. In fact, while he’s 1-1-1 against the blue and white, he has a 3.02 goals against average (GAA) and a .921 save percentage (SV%).
While he’s made it hard for the Maple Leafs this season, they were able to get four by him on Thursday even with him making a number of high-danger saves.
As for the Maple Leafs, they didn’t give up at any point in their second game against the Jets this week. They trailed twice in the game by a goal and gave up the game-tying goal with just over two minutes left in the third period. Still they were able to pull off the win just 59 seconds into the overtime frame.
While it’s not an ideal position to be in, constantly trying to battle back, the result was promising for a team that needs to find ways to pull out wins even in the most difficult situations if they hope to have a long playoff run.
Even Strength Mitch
We talk so much about the importance of special teams and while Mitch Marner is one of the quarterbacks for the Maple Leafs on the power play, his even strength play this season might be the most impressive – especially when your team is only getting one power play in the game.
Marner finished the game with a goal and assist – adding to his team leading 37 points this season. His goal came at even strength just 3:14 into the second period to tie the game at one goal apiece.
What’s impressive about his play at even strength this season is that none – yes, zero – of his 11 goals this season have come on the power play. All of them have come at even strength when the team needs to find that offensive output. Sure, he does have 13 power play assists, but his ability to score at even strength makes him all the more dangerous in helping the Maple Leafs offence on a nightly basis.
In fact, behind Auston Matthews, Marner is tied for second in the NHL so far for even strength goals – with Logan Couture, Joel Farabee and Tyler Toffoli.
As for Matthews, the NBA had ‘Hoodie Carmelo’ and, right now, the Maple Leafs have ‘Injured Matthews.’ It’s frightening actually to think of just how good he will be when he’s 100 percent. After all, he has 21 goals on the season and only he – and the medical staff – know how long this injury has been hampering him this season.
Either way, Matthews has been an absolute force for the Maple Leafs – even stepping up to the net-front position on the power play. Like Marner, he finished with a goal and an assist in Thursday’s win, including the overtime winner to increase his league lead in goals.
What’s even more noteworthy is the deke he put on Hellebuyck on the game-winning goal before putting it up and over the Jets’ goaltender – all of that with a sore wrist. I know, you’re going to accuse us of having a Toronto or Matthews bias, but the fact is, this is a must-see goal and goes to show you just how special of a player the Maple Leafs’ star actually is.
Also Worth Noting…
Joe Thornton played in his 1,652nd career regular season game on Thursday. With that he tied Mark Recchi for sixth on the NHL’s all-time list and is the second-highest active player on that list behind only Patrick Marleau (1,746 games played).
Kenny Agostino got into the lineup for the Maple Leafs, replacing Travis Boyd for the night. It was his first game since 2019 with the New Jersey Devils and his first game with the Maple Leafs. That said, he played just 4:08 and had zeros across the board.
Finally, Jimmy Vesey only played 4:41 of this game as well. There has been a lot of criticism of his play this season and with Wayne Simmonds on the mend, there is a lot of speculation that he could be the one that comes out of the lineup when the time comes.
As for the Maple Leafs, they take on the Jets once again on Saturday in Toronto for their fourth meeting of the season.
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.