For the second straight game, a rough second period sunk the Winnipeg Jets on the road as they dropped a 4-1 decision in Toronto on Thursday night.
After a scoreless first, the Maple Leafs scored just eight seconds into the second and struck for three goals in the middle frame to hand the Jets a second consecutive loss to start the road trip.
Auston Matthews notched a pair of markers for the Leafs to sweep the two-game season series.
The Jets were much better than 48 hours earlier when they lost handily to the Montreal Canadiens. They outshot Toronto 16-6 in the first period, but goals are suddenly hard to come by with the Jets scoring just four times over their last three contests.
“We played really well,” said head coach Rick Bowness. “We had a much better effort, a much better compete. The mistakes we made with their best players on the ice were glaring, and to me we gave them those first three goals. That’s all on us to give those guys Matthews and (Mitch) Marner those chances, they’re gonna score.
“But it was a much better effort, much better compete. The score was the same, I get that. If we create that many scoring chances on Saturday, we got the goal scorers. The puck will go in.”
It’s the first time the Jets have suffered back-to-back losses since the turn of the calendar.
“Losing’s not fun,” said Jets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois. “We always say good teams don’t lose two in a row.
“We’ve looked at our past couple, seven or eight games here, and it’s not the hockey that we’ve played all year that’s made us successful.
“We saw last year it’s a slippery slope. You start losing games and nobody feels bad about that in this league. You start losing games and teams see that as an advantage for themselves and especially on the road, on this long road trip. We’re going to need to turn it around.”
Kyle Connor scored the Jets lone goal.
Nikolaj Ehlers saw his six-game point streak come to an end in the loss.
Josh Morrissey had one assist to record his 50th point of the season, becoming just the fourth defenceman in franchise history to reach that plateau.
The Jets killed off their only minor penalty against the Leafs, and have now successfully killed off their last 14 penalties over the past five games.
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Neither side was able to find the back of the net in the first but, after they were outplayed in Montreal Tuesday, the Jets played with way more energy and looked like the better team for the most part through 20 minutes, holding a 16-6 edge in shots on goal.
That changed right off the opening faceoff of the second.
Matthews toe-dragged around Mark Scheifele to create a 2-on-1 and buried a shot through the legs of Connor Hellebuyck to open the scoring just eight seconds into the middle frame.
Matthews struck again at the 3:47 mark after his linemates won the battle for the puck behind the net and the sniper found open space in the slot. Michael Bunting hit Matthews with a great pass and Matthews did the rest, beating Hellebuyck high blocker-side to make it 2-0.
The Jets would get a chance to cut the lead in half with a power play just past the midway point, but instead the Leafs got a dagger of a shorthanded goal.
Scheifele turned the puck over at the Toronto blue line, keying a 2-on-1 with Marner carrying the puck into the Winnipeg end. He waited, faked, and then beat Hellebuyck high to make it 3-0 at the 13:49 mark.
Winnipeg began to push in the final minutes of the period but were unable to get one past Ilya Samsonov despite firing 26 shots his way in the first two periods.
Early in the third, a pair of Toronto minor penalties gave the Jets a 5-on-3 on which they needed to score. After getting turned aside by Samsonov a few times, the Jets passed the puck around the horn, leading to a Connor one-timer that he buried to get the Jets on the board.
Winnipeg continued to control play after cutting the lead to two, enjoying several extended shifts in the Toronto end but they were unable to cut into the deficit any further.
A Mark Giordano empty-netter sealed the game with 2:27 to go.
It’s a second straight 4-1 defeat for the Jets but there’s no doubt they played far better in Toronto than they did in Montreal. Samsonov was the difference, making 37 saves while Hellebuyck turned aside 23 shots in defeat.
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Winnipeg will look to get back into the win column Saturday night in Ottawa. Pregame coverage on 680 CJOB begins at 4 p.m. with puck drop just after 6 p.m.