Preview: Winnipeg Jets seek to Leaf it all out there in Toronto

Leaf it to Mittens - Marianne Helm

The Jets will be looking to improve their place in the standings as they travel to the ACC in Toronto for some Hockey Night in Canada action.

Game Preview:

The Jets have returned to playoff contention, and now sit 8th in the Eastern Conference with the capacity to move further up with a win tonight against the Leafs. The Jets have regained their home winning form, after a pair of victories at home this week against the Leafs and Rangers. This was a nice return to form at home, having only won 1 of their last 5 at the MTS Centre going into the pair of games. The victories brought their home record to 6-6-0 and their record since the 0-for-3 homestand is 9-2-1.

On the other hand the Leafs are 0-3-1 in their last 4 games, as their numbers have begun to regress into normal Toronto form, with their most recent loss seeing the Penguins scoring 3 times in the final 7:18 of play to erase a 1-0 Toronto lead. The Leafs are expected to have Joffrey Lupul in their lineup tonight after a lengthy absence due to a broken forearm, which some add a much needed spark to their lineup.

The teams have met twice so far this year, with both games occurring in Winnipeg. The Leafs won the first contest back on February 7, as Winnipeg blew a third period lead to lose 3-2 in regulation. Zach Redmond scored his first career goal in that game, as the Leafs have a knack for surrendering first career goals for the Jets 2.0, as Mark Scheifele also opened his account against the Leafs last year. The second meeting came just 4 days ago as the Jets put up a 5-2 win in front of a boisterous crowd in Winnipeg.

While the season is barely into its second half, this game proves to be rather important for both teams in terms of playoff implications, as a win by either team would result in winning the season series. If Winnipeg wins in regulation or overtime they would leapfrog Toronto in the standings, as Toronto sits just one point up on Winnipeg with 31 points.

Keys to the Game:

Winnipeg Jets.

  • Keep climbing the ladder: A win tonight could see the Jets jump as many as 3 teams in the standings, as their play of late can really make them look like a playoff team if they can continue in this form.
  • Stacking the Pavs: Ondrej Pavelec has almost been convincing in his past 4 games, as his play has been dynamic and consistent as he is a big reason why the Jets have the winning form they currently have. Jets fans and fanboy hacks alike are hoping that this is the Pavelec between the pipes for the next few years, not the one who lets in 10% of shots faced.
  • Special teams: Somehow, the power play for Winnipeg has found its legs with the additions of Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood to the first unit, as the big bad Antro has scored in back to back games with the man advantage. Their efficiency has improved to 15% for the year, which is now 26th in the league, while the penalty kill has improved to 27th in recent days as they have moved up from league bottom in recent games.

Toronto Maple Leafs

  • Jumping into a Lupul: Joffrey Lupul should return to the lineup for the Leafs tonight, and while I personally believe he's overrated, he does sync up well with Phil Kessel and should make things a little more difficult than Tuesday night for the Jets D core
  • Better goaltending: James Reimer has been putting up wins for Toronto, but his poor save percentage is finally coming back to bite Toronto. Ben Scrivens has also seen a drop in form, as the solid goaltending that buoyed the Leafs earlier in the season has become a bit of anchor.
  • Nazty Nazim: Nazim Kadri was drafted 7th overall 2 years before Mark Scheifele was drafted 7th overall. It has taken some time, but Kadri is finally emerging as a solid player that is 2nd on the team in points with 25 at age 22. Scheifele could easily be at this level or better in 3 years when he reaches age 22 himself.

Player to boo mercilessly:

Phil Kessel, because he has a nasty tendency to score against Winnipeg, with 3 goals on the year in two games against the Jets

Prediction:

Winnipeg 4

Toronto 2 - F

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