Jokinen with the German Suplex on Thornton.
Let’s face it: the Winnipeg Jets do not sport a winning record. With a mere 51 points in 52 games, there aren’t too many teams across the league you’d expect the Jets to beat with relative ease. Edmonton, Calgary, Buffalo, maybe Florida, but the buck stops there.
Except, of course, for the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs.
If you follow the Toronto Maple Leafs, you know they are perhaps the most scrutinized franchise in the NHL. This isn’t necessarily without reason – after all, the Leafs are the most profitable of the league’s thirty teams. As Uncle Ben would say, with great power comes great responsibility, and Toronto certainly isn’t without its critics.
While the Leafs are currently duking it out with several other teams for a wild card playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, the Jets are comfortably in last place in Western’s Central Division, depsite a recent four game win streak. The Maple Leafs are nine points ahead of the Jets (59 to 51) with one game in hand, but one can’t help but view the Jets as the favorite in Saturday’s match-up.
With the recent and successful return of Evander Kane, the Jets have been able to restore a balance to their roster, making their top nine forwards a potential threat against any other team. Thursday’s 1-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks exposed a few of Winnipeg’s weaknesses unnoticed since Maurice’s hiring, but the Jets already seem to be on the track to realizing their potential, and Saturday’s game against the Leafs should be a good measurement of where these Jets are truly at.
Wins against slumping Phoenix, Calgary, and Edmonton squads (plus a fortunate victory against the Ducks) perhaps made the Jets look farther along than they are, but the Leafs share a similar story. Both teams are Canadian, and thus, are under a highly focussed microscope. Media in both cities put unrealisitic expectations on their teams, and winning streaks of any size become preludes to Stanley Cup parades. Each team sports an eclectic mix of up-and-comers and veterans, yet they lack the depth to be called definite playoff contenders.
- Ladd – Little – Frolik
- Kane – Scheifele – Wheeler
- Setoguchi – Jokinen – Byfuglien
- Thorburn – O’Dell – Peluso
As of this writing, these line-ups on dailyfaceoff.com haven’t been updated since Thursday’s loss to the San Jose Sharks. For those of you who watched this game, we know this just won’t do.
The third line was completely and utterly exposed against the Sharks (much like they were against the Ducks). The combination of Byfuglien playing outside of his comfort zone at forward, Setoguchi skating on his off-wing for the first time in this NHL career, and all three linemates being excruciatingly slow skaters makes this line an offensive and defensive liability.
Eric O’Dell sat in the press box last game in the place of James Wright, who took over centring duties on the fourth line. This was a curious decision by Maurice, as O’Dell had three points in his previous five games while averaging just over seven minues of ice time under the new coach. Perhaps Maurice didn’t like what he saw of O’Dell’s defensive game, but there is no doubt O’Dell is a signifiacant upgrade over Wright.
- Bogogian – Enstrom
- Stuart – Trouba
- Pardy – Ellerby
Maurice may look to ice the same defensive line-up after this grouping only gave up one goal to the dominant Sharks, but that may turn out to be a mistake. With Pavelec pulled late in the third, Maurice stuck Byfiuglien on the ice to play defence. Jets play-by-play announcer Dennis Beyak commented that may have been Maurice simply trying to get all his best players on the ice, but the D need help and Byfuglien is the most obvious and immediate answer.
Pavelec took a painful shot in the blocker-side shoulder from Brent Burns on Thursday, but stayed and finished the game. Montoya could potentially get the start, but if Pavelec is ready to play, you know he will.
- van Riemsdyk – Bozak – Kessel
- Kulemin – Kadri – Lupul
- Raymond – Holland – Bodie
- Ashton – McClement – Orr
The Leafs line-up has been greatly compromised by the injuries of David Bolland and David Clarkson. Bolland went down with a severed ankle tendon against Vancouver in early November, and Clarkson has been a disappointment all season, missing a combined 17 games and counting this season due to injury and suspension.
Unexpected offense from Raymond and Holland are nice, but nary enough to make up for the disappointment of Bolland and Clarkson, the regression of Kadri and Lupul from the shortened lock-out year, the useless fourth line, and the streaky offense of Phil Kessel.
The Jets have a slight edge in forward depth, and hopefully realize it by dressing the right players.
- Gunnarsson – Phaneuf
- Franson – Gleason
- Gardiner – Rielly
The Leafs defence have been a picture of inconsistancy. Phaneuf’s looked tired at times, Franson and Gardiner have underperformed, and the opposition has been scoring goals galore. The Jets can penetrate this defensive corps with an aggressive forecheck, and have fast and skilled enough forwards to gain the Leafs zone whenever they see fit.
Reimer gets the start against the Jets, but neither Leafs goalie have been particularly strong as of late. This mostly has to do with the fact that the Leafs are bad at forward and defence.
With a good, honest effort, the Jets should be able to outwork the Leafs. Toronto may have more raw talent in their core player structure, but the Jets feature more versatility, and with the right coaching adjustments, Winnipeg should be able to win if they play a patient game.