Every streak must come to an end. For the Winnipeg Jets, their first winning streak under Paul Maurice was thwarted by Alex Stalock and the San Jose Sharks in what was only the second time this season the Jets have been shutout. Leaving a two-game road trip to sunny California with two points has to be considered a success considering both the Sharks and Anaheim Ducks had won but two games on home ice this season. And yes, neither of those losses were Anaheim's before they met the Jets.
As it stands, Winnipeg's line-up will remain unchanged from last game. Eric O`Dell, Eric Tangradi and Zach Redmond will remain the healthy scratches in tonight's battle with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team will look for more offensively against a much weaker opponent, as their past two contests have yielded a paltry forty-one shots for versus a whopping seventy-one against.
The Leafs sit fifth in the NHL's Eastern Conference, yet would not be in a playoff spot in the much more competitive West. Boasting a -12 goal differential, they are actually behind the Jets (-9) in this category. Up front they are led by dynamic winger Phil Kessel whose 26 goals and 52 points rank him amongst the upper echelon of league scorers. As no other Leafs' player has cracked the 40 point plateau, Kessel is the key to the Leafs attack.
Their blueline is inconsistent and only captain Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson maintain a positive +/-. James Reimer, the pride of Morweena, Manitoba is expected to get the start in goal opposite of a likely start from Ondrej Pavelec. His one career start in Winnipeg resulted in a 3.00 GAA, .914 SV% and a 3-2 Jets' win on New Years Eve 2011.
Keys to the Game
Exploit the Defence: The Maple Leafs are prone to mistakes defensively, most notably Phaneuf, Cody Franson, Morgan Reilly and Paul Ranger. These players struggle positionally and the Jets need to take advantage of their chances to get quality chances against the Leafs solid goaltending.
Shut it down!: Phil Kessel is the lifeblood of this Leafs' roster. He is easily the top player on the team and cannot be allowed time and space or he will destroy the Jets. Under Maurice's guidance, Winnipeg did a good job containing Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, but Kessel brings a speed element none of his peers possess.
Get the power play working: Leafs take the fourth most minor penalties in the NHL, so Winnipeg will likely have opportunities on the man-advantage and they need to take advantage.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Get to Pavelec: Onderj Pavelec is in the zone right now playing with a huge amount of confidence. The Leafs need to get in his face and rattle him.
Need for Speed: Mayson Raymond, Nikolai Kulemin, Nazim Kadri and the aforementioned Phil Kessel have good wheels and they need to use them to exploit some of the Jets less mobile defencemen the likes of Adam Pardy, Keaton Ellerby and Mark Stuart. Those guys are susceptible to being beat wide.
Quick Start: Despite Thursday's loss, the Jets are still flying high with a new coach. But a quick start from the Leafs could start eroding at some of that confidence.
Player to Boo Mericlessly
Dion Phaneuf. Dion is just not a very likable person. My wish is that all his fans got the chance to spend five minutes with him personally, so Dion would no longer have any fans.