The Toronto Maple Leafs started off with a bang in a key North Division matchup against the Winnipeg Jets, getting the opening goal from Alex Galchenyuk against a club playing in the second of back-to-back games, but once again the Leafs power play destroyed their momentum like a kid doing a cannonball when the others are swimming in a pool trying to create a whirlpool.
Toronto’s 71-second two-man advantage failed to create any good offensive chances other than Galchenyuk’s one timer off the post and the Jets quickly responded with three goals in 3:09 in a 5-2 victory over the Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday. John Tavares scored in the middle frame to cut the lead to 3-2, but Toronto could not even the score against Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck.
“The 5-on-3, our power-play in general, and the fact that (Winnipeg won) a faceoff on their power play and score immediately. That really was tough on us.” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the game. “We didn't respond well to that. We just lost structure to their best players. Essentially a 2-on-1 and a breakaway to their best people, those are freebies. Freebies that they didn't give us, that ultimately(was) the difference in the game.”
Jack Campbell struggled in his second consecutive loss, allowing three goals on six shots before being pulled in favor of backup David Rittich, but also fell victim to some bad decisions by the Toronto defense, as Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl were caught on pinches that resulted in goals from Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele.
“Obviously, the team is hanging him out to dry there on the second and third goals. He lets in a tough one on the first one (Nikoai Ehlers power play goal) and then he doesn’t get much of a chance to gather himself after that.” Keefe said. (Jack’s) got to face two of their best shooters in alone shortly after, so we didn’t take care of him there. He’s taken care of us a lot here this season. I just felt it was best to give him the rest of the night off.”
The Leafs power play has served as a momentum killer in the last two games against Calgary and Winnipeg and has become a major concern with less than a month to go in the regular season. After going 0-4 on Thursday, the club has scored only one goal in their last 41 opportunities (2.4%) and has allowed three short-handed goals.
“No doubt (the power play) didn't give us much momentum tonight. We had some looks at some opportunities, but we've got to find a way to capitalize.” Tavares said. “We’ve been really strong team at even strength and put a lot of wins together and done a lot of good things, but you need the special teams to come through, specifically on the power play, and I'm one of the key members on it. I've got to do a better job and it starts with me.”
The Leafs were without Auston Matthews due to an unspecified injury, and it is not certain whether the NHL’s leading scorer will be available for Saturday in Vancouver, but there continue to be unconfirmed reports that game and Monday’s contest against the Canucks may be postponed due to their just coming back from a team-wide COVID-19 outbreak.
*******If you are interested in sponsorship or advertising your business in the Greater Toronto / Southern Ontario area on this column, please send a message for more information by clicking on the “Contact” button at the top of the page.*******