Leafs Aim To Ground The Jets
MAPLE LEAFS (5-5-0) at JETS (4-4-1)
TV: LEAFS TV, TSN-JETS
Season series: Opening round of a three-game set, to be followed by a home-and-home in mid-March. Last season the home team won every game, which contrasts the Toronto Maple Leafs' fortunes of late.
Big story: Both teams stopped slides with important wins Tuesday. The Maple Leafs halted a two-game hiccup and started a three-game road trip with a solid 3-2 win at the Washington Capitals; the Winnipeg Jets won by the same score at home against the Florida Panthers in overtime, snapping their three-game losing streak.
The Jets are a good home team with a 3-1-0 record, but the Maple Leafs have proven more effective on the road with a 4-1-0 mark.
Maple Leafs: Washington has a history of being a very unfriendly stopover for the Maple Leafs, who were winless there since Dec. 6, 2010. The Capitals' recent struggles, though, played right into the Maple Leafs' hands as they took advantage of several Washington mistakes in Tuesday's victory. The game-winner off the stick of Korbinian Holzer (his first NHL goal) was a knuckler that threaded through traffic into the net. James van Riemsdyk scored the other two for Toronto.
"The way you dream about it, you go top shelf after dangling three guys," Holzer told the Toronto Star. "I'm very happy to get the goal and help the team win. I just shot it at the net and luckily good things happened."
Van Riemsdyk told the Toronto Sun, "That's a thing all good teams have going for them: They kind of nip (losing streaks) in the bud before it gets too big of a thing. Obviously it's a huge game for us to stay in that range and continue to grow and continue to get better."
Jets: No doubt Bryan Little's overtime winner Tuesday at 4:46 is the Jets' biggest goal of the season so far. It brought them back to .500 and stopped a slide that could have snowballed into a season-breaker. It certainly looked that way when they generated three shots in the first period.
"We were very tentative in the first period," Jets coach Claude Noel said in the Winnipeg Free Press. "It looked like the puck was a grenade. I saw a lot of nervousness, saw a lot of plays that were uncharacteristic. We looked like we'd never been together."
They began to build up confidence after that, keeping themselves in the game, but even the power-play chance late in overtime wasn't much to cheer about. In fact, the Jets' inability to get the puck into the Panthers' zone until the final shot drew boos.
"If I was in the stands, I probably would have been booing too," Little said to the Free Press. "Four-on-three, it should be a little easier to get in the zone, but for some reason we had some trouble with it.
"It doesn't really matter now that we got the two points."
Who's hot: Van Riemsdyk's two goals on Tuesday gave him the team lead with six. Phil Kessel has yet to score a goal, which has drawn a wave of criticism, but he leads the team with six assists. … Blake Wheeler's four goals set the pace for the Jets, but Tobias Enstrom leads the team in points with 12, 10 of those assists.
Injury report: Toronto forward Mike Brown (shoulder) has been cleared to practice. An MRI exam on defenseman Carl Gunnarsson's hip revealed no muscular damage. Both are day-to-day. … For the Jets, the status of defenseman Dustin Byfuglien remains one of the most important questions. Out the past three games with a lower-body injury, he leads the team in minutes per game and is a dominant force on the power play, with all three of his goals coming with the man advantage, all at home.