Game Preview #54 - Jets vs Leafs

 

For the second time in two nights the Toronto Maple Leafs (28-19-6) will look to gain two points against a fellow Canadian team. Following their 6-3 victory over the Edmonton Oilers last night the Leafs will be in Manitoba tonight to face the Winnipeg Jets (24-24-6) at the MTS Centre. With their win against the Oilers the Leafs leapfrogged the idle Ottawa Senators and into 7th spot in the Eastern Conference. Winnipeg currently occupies the 10th position in the East and are desperately clinging to their playoff lives. The Jets sit seven points back of the Senators for the final playoff berth, and with a loss tonight will fade to 10 points behind the Leafs. 

Being a supporter of the Leafs these last years I understand how tonight's game is of critical importance to the desperate Jets. A win tonight -  in their own rink - will go a long way in determining whether this team believes they can make a run. Toronto must enter tonight with the intention of eliminating a potential threat from the playoff chase.

It will be a tough challenge as the Jets are a formidable opponent on their home ice going 15-8-2 - 1-2-1 in their last four -  so far this season. That record includes a 3-2 victory over the Leafs on December 31, 2011. In that game the Leafs surrendered two power play goals. In reality though all three Jets markers were due to the Leafs' poor PK as the third goal went in seconds after a Leafs minor ended. Since that game the Leafs haven't surrendered a power play goal going a perfect 22 for 22 in their past 15 contests. 

Jonas Gustavsson will be back in the net for the Leafs following three straight starts (and wins) from James Reimer. Gustavsson has been solid for the Leafs in the new year and is a significant reason that Toronto is sitting in a playoff position. Hopefully his name is Jonas can put the horrific last thirteen minutes of the game in Pittsburgh last week behind him. With the Leafs playing back to back nights there is no game day skate, therefore no word on any lineup changes other than Gustavsson in for Reimer. Linemates Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur both enter tonight's game on six game point streaks, while Phil Kessel has six points in his last two games. A big factor in last night's victory over the Oilers was that the top defense pairing of Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson played significantly less than their normal average, so they should be fresher than normal in this back to back situation. 

Lineups

Leafs 

Forwards

Lupul - Bozak - Kessel 
Kulemin - Grabovski - MacArthur
Crabb - Connolly - Lombardi 
Brown - Steckel - Armstrong

Defense

Gunnarsson - Phaneuf 
Gardiner - Schenn 
Liles - Franson 

Goalies 

Gustavsson 
Reimer

Jets

Forwards

Ladd - Little - Wheeler
Machacek - Antropov - Wellwood 
Glass - Slater - Thorburn 
Burmistrov - Gagnon - Miettinen 

Defense 

Enstrom - Byfuglien 
Hainsey - Bogosian 
Stuart - Oduya 

Goalies 

Pavelec 
Mason 

Players to Watch 

Leafs: Matthew Lombardi - The third liner played his best game in a Leaf uniform last night. His speed and vision was very obvious against the Oilers. If Lombardi can get it going alongside Tim Connolly then the Leafs become that much more dangerous. 

Jets: Blake Wheeler - Phil Kessel's former linemate has the speed and talent to be a star in this league. However since his motivation continues to be a major question mark one cannot really rely on his production. Wheeler always seems to step up his game versus the blue and white. 

Game Time: 8:30 at the MTS Centre. TV - Sportsnet Ontario. Radio - AM640