Wheeler’s 1,00th NHL game, Winnipeg’s resurgence on the PP, Final 20 minutes of madness: Three takeaways from Jets’ 6-3 victory over Maple Leafs
Photo credit:Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports
By Thomas Hall1 year ago
The life of a Winnipeg sports fan couldn’t have been more exciting than it was during this past Sunday, especially for those in attendance.
First, Manitoba locals watched the Blue Bombers punch their ticket to the 108th Grey Cup. Then, as they made their way over from IG Field to Canada Life Centre, they enjoyed an action-packed showdown between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Jets.
It may have only been game No. 24 of the regular season for Winnipeg, however, that didn’t stop them from treating it like a playoff contest during this historic night for captain @Blake Wheeler.
Following the first 20 minutes, which featured power-play goals for both teams, the middle frame ultimately proved to be the difference-maker in this matchup as the Jets outscored their opponent by a 2-to-1 ratio, handing them a 5-3 lead heading into the third period. Amid all the chaos that ensued in the final 20 minutes, including two different fights, a power-play marker from @Mark Scheifele ended the Maple Leafs’ comeback hopes.
As a result, Winnipeg came out of this WWE-style showdown – no, there weren’t any cage matches involved – with a 6-3 victory, extending their winning streak to two games.
For an extended recap of this heavyweight bout, let’s explore three takeaways from the first meeting of the season between the Jets and Maple Leafs.
A Hot-Cold Performance From Blake Wheeler in His 1,000th NHL Game
Before puck drop, Wheeler, with his wife and children close by, received a heart-warming celebration for all his hard work and dedication over his 14 seasons in the National Hockey League.
Along with taking home the well-regarded “Silver Stick,” a video tribute was shown in the 35-year-old’s honour, which featured cameos from fan-favourite icons like @Dustin Byfuglien and @Bryan Little. It was truly a tear-jerking moment for everyone involved, especially for No. 26.
Then came the actual game, heroically, Wheeler wasted little time before making an instant impact on the scoreboard, as he helped set up @Pierre-Luc Dubois’ 12th goal of 2021-22. Later in the game, this time in the second period, the 6’5″ forward helped cycle the puck around before it reached @Kyle Connor’s new spot on the left wing, leading to the veteran forward’s second power-play point of the night.
In addition to registering a pair of assists, Wheeler also received a golden opportunity to break through his goalless drought, as defenceman @Neal Pionk sent a stretch pass his way that provided him with a breakaway chance. Unfortunately, the right-hander couldn’t sneak the puck past Maple Leafs goaltender @Joseph Woll, keeping him with a goal on the season.
As for his forgettable moments, sadly, there was a handful of them during this joyous occasion as he was on the ice for a team-worst 14 shots against, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. Most notably, Winnipeg’s captain turned over the puck in the neutral zone during the first period, allowing @John Tavares to skate in all on his own, only to have @Connor Hellebuyck stop him not once, but twice.
Despite his flaws, all in all, Wheeler’s 1,000th NHL game proved to be a contest he likely won’t forget any time soon.
Winnipeg’s Power Play is Beginning to Reignite
Coming into this Sunday night contest, the Jets were riding a dreadful 3-for-31 stretch on the power play over their last nine games, earning them the eighth-worst percentage (9.7%) with the man advantage during that span.
After revamping both units earlier in the week, their special teams’ units broke out massively against the Maple Leafs, resulting in three separate power-play markers. In turn, thanks to a lack of discipline from their opponent, this club was able to capitalize on three of its five opportunities with the man advantage, making for an extremely productive performance.
Just past the 4:00 mark of the first period, Scheifele won a loose puck along the boards and quickly passed it over to Wheeler at the point, where he found Dubois skating in front of the net. Once the left-hander received the puck, he shifted it over to his backhand before sliding it under Woll’s left pad for the score.
Then in the second period, Wheeler found Dubois with the puck once again, but this time, the former Columbus Blue Jacket was located behind the net. Shortly after receiving the pass, he rifled the puck around to @Kyle Connor, who blasted one home for the Jets’ second goal on the power play.
Finally, just under the midway mark of the final frame, Pionk advanced the puck up the ice to Connor and allowed him to create a line rush into the offensive zone. But with the middle left unprotected, Scheifele exploded into that exact spot and was sprung for a breakaway opportunity – one he made sure not to waste.
Everything Came Off the Rails in the Third Period
Without a doubt, this meeting between Winnipeg and Toronto featured a little bit of everything, high-powered offences, emotion, physicality and most importantly, some ineffective officiating.
Granted, from the Jets’ standpoint, aside from a very questionable inference penalty on defenceman @Nate Schmidt, there weren’t too many calls that didn’t fall their way throughout this contest. But in the third period, a non-call on @Neal Pionk, who collided with @Rasmus Sandin knee-on-knee, helped push this game over a cliff with almost a full period left to play.
You be the judge, but based on this replay, it’s clear Pionk should’ve been charged with a kneeing/tripping penalty on this play. (Video courtesy of Omar on Twitter.)
Since no infraction was handed down, the Maple Leafs took it upon themselves to exact some revenge for this incident, which forced Sandin to leave the game due to a lower-body injury. Just minutes later, @Jason Spezza took a run at a defenceless Pionk, who was attempting to block a shot without his stick, and was kneed directly in the head.
After that point, roughing penalties were handed out following almost every single post-play whistle, however, that didn’t deter either team from seeking out revenge for their respective teammates. Even with less than a minute remaining in regulation, @Wayne Simmonds wasn’t finished enforcing his will on the Jets and ultimately dropped the gloves with @Logan Stanley, which concluded with the 6’7″ blueliner raising his arms in celebration of said fight.
Regardless of your stance on the initial hit, it seems most of this player-on-player chaos largely could’ve been avoided if the referees would’ve given Pionk a two-minute penalty shortly after Sandin went down on the ice.
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