Maple Leafs-Jets Preview
Winnipeg was a difficult destination for visitors in the first season of its second stint as an NHL city.
Lately, however, it's been the Jets' play on the road that has kept them in contention for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Jets return to Manitoba looking to turn things around in their own building and gain ground on one of the teams they're chasing Tuesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
With fans packing the house to see their new team, the Jets went 23-13-5 at the MTS Centre in 2011-12, but won only 14 of 41 road games and missed the playoffs.
The crowds are still coming, but Winnipeg (12-11-2) is 1-5-0 in its last six at home, totaling 10 goals and going 0 for 17 on the power play.
The Jets are still two points out of eighth place in the East, thanks in large part to a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 road contests, even with extensive travel as they play their final season in the Southeast Division.
They weren't at their best Sunday at New Jersey, falling behind 2-0 in the first 10:12, but Evander Kane ended a five-game scoring drought with his 10th goal to help the Jets salvage a point in a 3-2 shootout loss in the finale of a four-game trip.
"We didn't come out a little flat, we came out a lot flat," coach Claude Noel said. "So how it can happen is beyond me."
Noel will be hoping to see a re-energized club Tuesday as the Jets play at home for the first time since a 3-0 loss to Washington on March 2, the only time they've been shut out this year.
Toronto (15-10-1) won 3-2 in Winnipeg on Feb. 7 after losing both of its visits last season. The Maple Leafs trailed last month with just over five minutes to play before Matt Frattin and Phil Kessel scored in a 55-second span.
"It instilled confidence in our group that we could come back," coach Randy Carlyle said Monday. "We're capable of coming back being from a goal down in the opposition's building. Some players stepped up, and our group felt pretty good about ourselves."
Kessel's game-winner that night was his first goal of the year in his 11th game, but he's probably feeling much more confident ahead of this visit. He's scored three times in his last four games while adding four assists.
His goal with 4:20 left in regulation earned the Maple Leafs a point in Saturday's 5-4 shootout loss to Pittsburgh.
Toronto now looks to avoid its first three-game losing streak of the season. Defense is the primary area for improvement considering the Leafs have allowed four goals or more five times and yielded an average of 34.3 shots in their last six games.
"I would say we'd like to tighten that area up, definitely," Carlyle said. "We've given too many quality chances."
James Reimer has allowed eight goals in his last two starts, but he's faced 84 shots in those games and is still 6-0-1 in his last seven outings. That stretch began Feb. 7 with the Manitoba native stopping 23 of 25 shots for his first NHL win in his home province.
These teams meet again Saturday in Toronto to finish the season series.