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Game #13 Preview: Winnipeg Jets at Toronto Maple Leafs

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Not so long ago, in the mysterious land of Toronto, Canada...
Scott Pilgrim was dating a high schooler.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of their worst game of the 2015-16 season, the Winnipeg Jets (7-4-1) will look to bounce back against Mike Babcock's Toronto Maple Leafs (2-7-2). Winnipeg went 1-0-1 against the Leafs last season, with a 5-1 win and 4-3 OT loss. James Reimer was Toronto's goalie of record in the 5-1 game, and is expected to start tonight. As has been widely reported, the Jets have Dustin Byfuglien available to them, after the league declined to suspend him for his hit on Brendan Gallagher.

Catch the game at 6:00 PM Central Time on Sportsnet, Sportsnet One and TSN 1290. It will reportedly be the only fun thing going on in Toronto tonight.

Keys to the Game: Winnipeg Jets

Your overconfidence is your weakness: It's funny talking about overconfidence after the thorough beatdown delivered by Montreal on Sunday, but a cursory look at Toronto's win-loss record might engender said cockiness. It shouldn't. Despite an abysmal points total, these are not your Randy Carlyle Maple Leafs. At 5v5 Close CF%, Toronto is fifth (FIFTH!!!!) in the league, behind only St. Louis, Dallas, Washington and Los Angeles. Working with dreadfully small sample sizes, all but four Leafs skaters have a 5v5 Close CF% of 52% or above. Yes, Toronto is in Year One of an admittedly painful rebuild. But the Jets would do well by remembering that projects under construction can still be dangerousDon't get cocky.

It's a trap!: So why then are the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-7-2, you may ask? The answer is simple: goaltending. Toronto's nominal #1, Jonathan Bernier, has an 0-6-1 record and .899 SV%. Tonight's starter in James Reimer fares only somewhat better, at 2-1-1 and a .908 SV%. Together, their save percentage comes in at a dismal .903%; the league average is .914%.

Normally, this is where I would suggest that the Winnipeg Jets bombard Toronto's subpar goaltending with shots (**insert relevant LMFAO song here**). But in four decisions, here's what Optimus Reim's stats have looked like, as per NHL.com:

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Maybe the Jets should purposely lose the possession battle, causing Reimer to see limited shots and therefore suck. I say this in jest...mostly.

Engage those defencemen at point blank range: Much ink has been spilled over Toronto's lack of firepower upfront, especially after losing Phil Kessel. And through eleven games, this has been on the mark. The Leafs are averaging only 2.18 Goals For per game, good for 27th in the league behind only Carolina, Philadelphia and Anaheim (and tied with Pittsburgh, ironically enough). But the rebuilding process and lack of true star power means that Toronto rolls out four lines of relatively similar mediocrity. In other words, there's no real top line to shut down, and each trio has just enough skill to be of concern offensively.

It's perhaps unsurprising that the Leafs have been leaning on their defence to help out the offence. Morgan Rielly is Toronto's points leader, with 8 in 11 games, while Dion Phaneuf is tied for second with 7 in 11. The Leafs' d-corps is (mostly) an interesting hodgepodge of players who can move the puck and help out in transition; if this sounds familiar, it's because it's a setup similar to Montreal's.

Winnipeg should look to stymie what offence Toronto does have, and that means going hard after the defence. Dam the source through which much of the offence flows. While made better under Mike Babcock, the Leafs' d-corps obviously possesses flaws, whether they be undersized (Matt Hunwick), raw (Martin Marincin), flat-footed (Dion Phaneuf) or Roman Polak (Roman Polak). The Jets should look to exploit Polak in particular; he may be big and scary, but his ability with the puck? Not so good.

Take the crowd out of it:

It's the Air Canada Centre. The crowd's been out of it since Pat Quinn was fired.

Keys to the Game: Toronto Maple Leafs

Suboptimus Reim: After his 43 save performance against Dallas Monday, James Reimer had a save percentage of .908%. Prior to Monday? 0.876%. This translates into meaning two things: 1) it's still incredibly early in the season, Anaheim's playoff chances notwithstanding; and 2) James Reimer needs to be better. Winnipeg Jets fans should be able to sympathise with a team playing well that's sunk by subpar goaltending. And as a pending UFA, Reimer is auditioning for the league as much as he is for Toronto's starting gig.

Do what you do best: I've already mentioned how Toronto's 5v5 play is much improved. The team's special teams however, have struggled to begin the season. Their power play ranks 24th with a 12.5% conversion rate, the penalty kill 27th at 75.0%. Against an inept PP such as this, it's tempting to suggest that Winnipeg risk taking physical liberties, especially against the Leafs' d-corps. Unless they feel their special teams have been unlucky and/or improved, the Leafs might best be served by a good, clean game of 5v5 hockey.

Stick to the plan: This will be a key for Toronto until the season's through. Even with Mike Babcock at the helm, the Leafs have been so bad for so long that no one fully trusts their ability to play possession-oriented hockey over the course of a full season, much less multiple. Toronto needs to consistently show that they are turning over a new leaf.

Player to Boo Mercilessly

Between Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Dion Phaneuf and the aforementioned James Reimer, this one is rife with possibilities. My suggestion is to boo Morgan Rielly, for both spelling his last name incorrectly and rivaling Jacob Trouba for the title of "best d-man taken in the 2012 NHL Draft".

Prediction

Toronto surprises Winnipeg fans with solid play, winning the #fancystats battle. Despite this, James Reimer wilts, letting in 4 goals on 26 shots. Jets win 4-2.