Maple Leafs-Jets Preview
The Toronto Maple Leafs were dominant as recently as two weeks ago, but offensive issues are partly why they’ve cooled off considerably.
Having Phil Kessel face the Winnipeg Jets could get the offense going again.
Kessel looks to extend the NHL’s longest goal streak against an opponent in almost 21 years as the visiting Maple Leafs face the Jets on Saturday night.
Toronto (21-15-3) leads the league with 3.23 goals per game, and averaged 4.08 during a 10-1-1 stretch that was capped with a 6-2 win over Anaheim on Dec. 16.
The Maple Leafs have totaled 19 goals in eight games since, including seven in the two victories over that stretch.
Those issues continued in Friday’s 3-1 loss at Minnesota as they dropped to 2-4 on a season-high seven-game road trip.
"We played a pretty solid game on the road," said Jonathan Bernier, who had 26 saves. "We didn’t find a way to score more goals and that was the bottom line."
Kessel leads Toronto with 18 goals, but has managed only one in eight games after scoring six in the previous eight.
He hasn’t had any problems producing against the Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise, scoring in 10 straight meetings and totaling 11 during that stretch. It’s the longest streak against an opponent since Brett Hull had goals in 13 consecutive meetings with the New York Islanders from Jan. 30, 1990-March 12, 1994.
Kessel scored with 1:33 left in regulation at MTS Centre on Jan. 25, but the Leafs fell 5-4 in overtime to lose for the fifth time in six visits.
They’ve dropped four in a row overall in the series.
The Jets (19-12-7) lost their second straight overall and third in a row at home, 5-2 to the Islanders on Wednesday.
They’ve allowed 12 goals during that three-game skid after matching that total in the previous five games on home ice.
Winnipeg is expecting a similar challenge against the Maple Leafs, despite their recent offensive woes.
"A team that skates and generates an awful lot off the rush and a real good power play," coach Paul Maurice said. "Puck skills off transition into motion, so they can make the plays that snap it around. If you can get to them to take away that ice, you got a whole lot better chance. You just can’t give them that room, so we gotta play that game."
Andrew Ladd has eight points in the past five meetings with the Maple Leafs, collecting two assists in each of the last three.
The captain enters this matchup with six points in four games after failing to get any over the previous four. His two goals against the Islanders gave him 14 and tied him with Bryan Little for the team lead. He moved past Blake Wheeler for the scoring lead with 29 points.
After Ondrej Pavelec started against the Islanders, Michael Hutchinson could be back in net Saturday. The undrafted Hutchinson leads the NHL with a 1.87 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage.