Considering the two all-Canadian North Division foes are set to meet 10 total times during the 2020-21 season, compounded with the fact that it is already the second week of March, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out a Leafs-heavy second-half schedule is in store for Winnipeg.
After falling 3-1 to Toronto back on January 18th – or the second game of Winnipeg’s season – the Jets came into Tuesday’s contest with attitude. Having lost 7-1 to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, the club was able to brush aside the doubters while focusing on the task at hand by way of a tight 4-3 victory over the Maple Leafs.
“Obviously, when you lose like that nobody likes the feeling,” defenceman Josh Morrissey said of Saturday’s loss. “But right after the game Paul (Maurice) comes in and tells us to park it. We had a couple days in between games, which is nice, and I think we have enough veteran players in our locker room where sometimes you’re going to have games like that and it’s about how you respond. But the way Paul (Maurice) handled it though, it’s not like the next day we were singling guys out in video and going through the whole all seven goals in slow-motion, where it feels like the world is ending, but just keeping an even-keel approach. It’s a 56-game season and we are going to have some of those here and there. You’ve got to let it go. I thought we had a great practice yesterday, and I bet you no one was even thinking about that coming into the game.”
What they were thinking about was picking up two important points in a tight North Division race, to which the Jets currently sit in second place – behind just Toronto – with a record of 16-8-1 on the season.
“We didn’t go searching,” goaltender Connor Hellebuyck said, following his 36-save performance Tuesday. “We all believed in our game and we stuck to it. Had a good practice, and you could tell guys were hungry for it. And they didn’t let it weigh in a negative way on their brains. We came and stuck to our game.”
Despite walking away with the victory in the first of the three matchups, Winnipeg certainly has its own work to do moving forward.
“The difference between what we liked and we didn’t like is a puck support thing,” head coach Paul Maurice said post-game. “Playing closer together, controlling the middle of the ice. At times we were good at it. It was what we were really poor at our first trip in here… and I thought we got much better at that for a very long stretch of time. But when you play these guys they’re going to expose it, too. This is what they’re really good at it. We were a much better hockey team in here tonight than we were the last time. So there’s some progress there. And that idea of close supports is something that we’ll work on all year.”
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Having been outshot 39-23 on the night, out-attempted 53-32, and giving up 16 high-danger scoring chances to their five, Winnipeg will look to pay more attention to its defensive side of things for Thursday’s rematch at Scotiabank Arena.
“I think we did a good job,” Morrissey said of his team’s defensive efforts on Tuesday. “Obviously, there are some plays that we can be better at in the middle of the ice, for sure. They’ve got a lot of skill and speed and they are dangerous off the rush, but you know, when you play against a team like that with a few elite players in our division here, obviously the middle of the ice is the most dangerous. I felt that we did a good job and we are going to have to continue to fine-tune that and do a little better job here in the next couple games.”
Morrissey, who picked up his first goal of the season midway through the second period, has somewhat of an idea as to what worked on the play – and it wasn’t something that he did on the ice that contributed.
“It was nice to get one,” he said. “It felt good, whenever you can score. You know, I shaved the other day in between games, so maybe that helped, who knows. That’s what the guys were saying, so I will probably keep this look for a while.”
From an outsider’s perspective, Jets forward Adam Lowry also appears to have shaven, while potentially going as far as getting a haircut as well. Should he be in line for a breakout game on Thursday? Only time will tell.