Maple Leafs, Jets meet in clash of North Division leaders

NHL Hockey

After losing two in a row, the Toronto Maple Leafs hope to take flight again when they host the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.

The game could be significant in the North Division standings. The Jets, after defeating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 on Wednesday night, have moved within five points of the Maple Leafs, who lead the division with 60 points.

The Jets and Leafs are scheduled to meet three more times after Thursday.

Toronto had been on a 9-0-1 roll before losing to the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 on Monday and 3-2 in overtime to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.

It would help the Maple Leafs if the power play could take off. They are in a 1-for-38 drought with the man advantage.

“We haven’t been able to get some traction just to feel good about ourselves consistently,” Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said. “We’re getting some looks and we’re creating some opportunities, but at times we’re not as in sync as we would like to be. We know that opportunities are only going to be one or two a night; that’s traditionally how it gets down the stretch and into the playoffs, so we have to find a way to be ready when we get these opportunities and capitalize.”

The Maple Leafs are 4-2-0 against the Jets this season. Toronto won the two most recent meetings, including one in overtime, on March 31 and April 2.

Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, Toronto’s top two offensive threats, were held off the scoresheet against the Flames. And Matthews won’t play Thursday with an unspecified injury that is considered day to day, coach Sheldon Keefe said.

The Maple Leafs started goaltender David Rittich on Tuesday, just after acquiring him in a trade with the Flames. Jack Campbell is likely to start in goal on Thursday.

Laurent Brossoit started in goal for Winnipeg against Ottawa, so Connor Hellebuyck likely will play Thursday.

Wherever the Jets finish in the standing, they want to enter the postseason playing well.

“You want to be firing on all cylinders,” Jets center Nate Thompson said. “You don’t want to be having to turn it on for the playoffs.”

Center Paul Stastny and coach Paul Maurice agreed.

“From the start of the regular season, we’ve found what our identity is, and we’re trying to solidify that,” Stastny said. “So that when the playoffs come around, we’re peaking at the right time.”

“You just want to feel good,” Maurice said. “You want to feel hopeful and good going into the playoffs.”

Maurice also will be observing players in the next stretch.

“I’m going to want to see players I haven’t seen a whole lot,” he said. “It’s not just the individual player. It’s the combinations, the matchup, it’s all those things. It’s health and wellness for other players.”

Three players acquired by Toronto before the trade deadline on Monday — Nick Foligno, Riley Nash and Ben Hutton — are on the COVID-19 protocol list as they serve their mandated seven-day quarantine.

And Leafs right winger William Nylander has missed four games because of COVID-19 protocols.

“We’re still waiting to hear from the league on how that’s going to proceed,” Keefe said Tuesday when asked about Nylander.

Toronto left winger Nick Robertson was reinstated from COVID-19 list Thursday, a day after he was put on the list. Before playing the past two games with the Leafs, he was with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, whose next three games have been postponed because of COVID-19 concerns.

–Field Level Media

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