Tonight, the 4-4-1 Winnipeg Jets play host the 5-5-0 Toronto Maple Leafs in one of the least sexy match-ups scheduled this evening. While it's not as un-tantilizing as, say, Columbus vs. Calgary, it's still a game that won't garner a bandy of national attention outside of each team's respective market.
But Jets vs. Leafs does feature a battle of two Canadian teams, a contest always dear to the hearts of the hockey purists. Or old, sweater-wearing Leafs fans. At the very least we can fabricate a storyline, being that these two middling teams have a lot on the line coming into this tilt. Both Winnipeg and Toronto will be looking to stockpile wins for themselves, hoping to cozily nestle into the heart of the Eastern Conference standings before the mid-point of the season.
On the other hand, given Winnipeg's consistency and Toronto's abysmal home record, that might be easier said than done.
Coming into tonight's game. the early play of Leafs goaltender James Reimer has been somewhat of a surprise; his .917 SV% is presently one of the league's best. Toronto has relied upon their duo of he and Ben Scrivens to sneak out wins, as at 2.50 goals per game, they are finally climbing out of the NHL's basement in scoring. Mike Gillis is still playing a game of eenie-meenie-miny-mo with Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider headshots, making it more likely that the Leafs will lean on their netminding duo heading forward.
The Jets have returned Mark Scheifele to Barrie of the OHL, an assignment that pales in comparison to any of the roster rumours swirling around Toronto, but nevertheless, quells some questions with management's direction pertaining to their young forward. Dustin Byfuglien's status for tonight's game is still in doubt while he works his way back from a lower-body injury, so that will be a story to watch leading up to puck-drop.
Keys to the Game:
- Play it again, Sam!: Here's a fun fact for you whiz kids -- both these teams played a year ago to the day, with the Jets escaping with a sloppy (that word seems to trend a lot around here) victory over the Leafs. In this instance, history repeating itself would be a good thing.
- Keep it simple stupid: On too many occasions -- predominantly on the powerplay, the Winnipeg Jets have been guilty of over-passing and playing 'cute' hockey. If they effectively implement their cycle game and limit turnovers, they'll be in good shape.
- Avoid the slow starts: Sure, it's a repetitive storyline, but you can't seriously expect any team in the NHL to be in a playoff hunt if they're continually giving up the first goal in every game. Avoid the soft start and dictate the tempo.
Toronto Maple Leafs
- Keep Kessel engaged: Yeah, the guy is in an o-fer slump, but even a broken clock is right twice a day. If he keeps shooting, the results will come.
- Infuse the powerplay: A sputtering powerplay and the Winnipeg Jets penalty kill can be a match made in heaven, as evidenced by the Florida Panthers last week. If the Leafs are able to start clicking on the man-advantage, it will be a long night for the Jets.
- Win one for the Gipper: Although Randy Carlyle might not captivate the same way Knute Rockne did, he's still a coach who is well-respected by his players. With the man they called Kitty making his return to Winnipeg, look at is as extra motivation for the Leafs to get two points for their guy.
Player to boo mercilessly:
Toronto 2 - F