The Toronto Maple Leafs rode a dominant second period to victory against the Winnipeg Jets, opening up what’s sure to be one of the most heated rivalries in the National Hockey League’s North Division with a 3-1 win on Monday night.
It was the first time the two clubs have met in 376 days, when the two teams played their two games as inter-conference foes a week apart during the 2019-20 season.
Now, as new-found division rivals, the score will be settled nine more times – the Leafs play the Jets the most out of all their Canadian opponents, along with the Ottawa Senators.
It was a more subdued affair than fans would be used to from last year’s contests, which averaged eight goals apiece — both Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck and the Leafs’ Frederik Andersen were sharp.
The first several minutes were dominated by the Maple Leafs, who buzzed around the Jets’ defensive zone generating several offensive chances as the Winnipeg club couldn’t clear the zone.
Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor and Leafs defenseman Justin Holl were the first two players to take a trip to the penalty box at 5:03 of the first period, when Connor bowled into goaltender Frederik Andersen while driving hard to the net, and Holl took exception.
The Leafs killed off their first penalty when Zach Hyman was sent off for a hooking call on Mark Scheifele that did no damage on the scoreboard.
The Jets wrapped up the first period the same way the Leafs started it — with some good chances around the net by the second line of Connor, Mathieu Perrault and Paul Stastny.
Sami Niku’s hold on Leafs captain John Tavares sent the home side to the power play for the first time, and it was Tavares himself who made the Jets pay, firing a pass from William Nylander past an out-of-place Connor Hellebuyck for the game’s first goal.
Tavares leads the Leafs in goal-scoring this year with three — half of the team’s power play goals have come off his stick.
The Jets had a prime opportunity to answer on the power play with a penalty to Travis Dermott not long after the icebreaker, but the best chance of that time came from Leafs forward Ilya Mikheyev who burst in on a breakaway short-handed, but was stopped twice by Hellebuyck.
It was an extension of what took place during most of the second period — one the Leafs started by out-shooting the Jets on a 19-1 run.
The Leafs were further rewarded for a dominant second period when an unchecked Mitch Marner sent a rebound from Hellebuyck into a largely open net, putting Toronto up 2-0 late.
It wasn’t too late for the Jets to nullify the Marner goal, though.
Just 34 seconds later, Kyle Connor got the Jets on the board, taking a pass across the slot from Neal Pionk and sending it past Andersen on the short side.
It’s Connor’s tenth goal in his last nine regular season games.
A Jake Muzzin penalty offered the Jets the opportunity for a fast start to the third period.
Connor had two brilliant chances to tie the game, but fired both wide and high of Andersen.
By the halfway point in the final frame, Toronto had only managed two shots on goal, a significant improvement for the Jets over the way the team began the second period.
Leafs defensemen T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian were able to watch Muzzin step out of the box after spending the entire two minutes hemmed in their own end without a line change.
Andrew Copp, promoted to the Jets’ top line amid a myriad of roster shuffling, had perhaps the team’s best chance of the third period at the halfway point.
He took a puck to the front of the net after a Leafs turnover, but his back-hand effort was stopped by Andersen, who finished with a .964 save percentage — stopping 27 of the 28 shots he faced.
Leafs defenseman Morgan Reilly sent the puck over the glass in his own zone for a delay of game penalty with five minutes to go – but the Jets again sent their best opportunities wide of the net.
Marner iced the game for Toronto with an empty-net goal, his second of the game.
He turned his head to Pionk after the goal, appearing to say a few words — before Kitchener native Mark Scheifele stepped in, and a brief scrum ensued.
Cooler heads prevailed, and after the final seconds ticked down, Toronto skated off the ice two points richer – sporting a 3-1-0 record.
Winnipeg dropped it’s first game of the young NHL season, and is now 1-1-0.
The Jets were left without several key players on Monday — forward Patrik Laine was unable to play due to an upper-body injury, Dylan DeMelo remained in Winnipeg for personal reasons, and Tucker Poolman was added to the league’s list of players unable to take part in practices or games due to COVID-19.
2016 first round draft pick Logan Stanley recorded a hit in his first 11 minutes of NHL action, making his debut alongside Nathan Beaulieu on the Jets’ third defensive pairing.
Scheifele led the team in ice time at 26:17.
Hellebuyck was sharp in goal, making 35 saves on 37 shots — including a few high-danger chances during the Leafs’ onslaught in the middle period.
The two sides have a lot of time to forget their first of 10 meetings this season — their next game against each other comes on Mar. 9, the first of three straight at Scotiabank Arena.
Winnipeg is off to Ottawa now, where they’ll face the 1-1-0 Senators on Tuesday night, continuing a stretch of five games in seven nights that began on Monday.
Coverage on CJOB begins at 4 p.m. with Kelly Moore and the pre-game show, before Paul Edmonds and Jaimie Thomas have the call of the game at 6 p.m.
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