With tonight’s game being broadcast all over North America there is some excitement in the air between the Jets and Leafs. This one has been circled on the calendar for a while and not only is it a matchup between the #1 and #2 picks in the 2016 draft (more on that below) but it’s a game featuring Canada’s two best teams and could legitimately be a Stanley Cup preview given how good both teams are.
But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. Tonight’s game has plenty of hype, but it also has a few questions surrounding it.
1 – How many goals are going to be scored tonight and do they have backup red lights just in case?
The Toronto Maple Leafs have scored 34 times this season in nine games, a mark that’s best in the NHL (although tied with Washington) while the Jets aren’t too far behind with 29 goals which places them seventh. The Leafs and Jets have the number two and four power plays respectively. Both of these teams can score a bunch.
The Maple Leafs have allowed 30 goals in nine games this season which is bad (not Red Wings bad, but bad) while the Jets have only been a little more stingy with 24 goals against putting them in the middle of the league in that department, but it’s the amount of shots given up that has been a concern for Winnipeg with 309 shots .. An average of 34 a game.
If we had to give an overall edge, it might go to the Jets based on the fact their defense may be a little bit better thanks to Byfuglien, Trouba and Scheifele, but after two games of managing a single goal in each, you have to think the Leafs will be focused on scoring and putting pressure on that defense which could mean a long night for Connor Hellebuyck yet again.
2 – Will the line juggling pay off?
Paul Maurice didn’t confirm it as much in his pre-game talks, but the Jets could roll out Scheifele with Wheeler and Laine on the top line while Bryan Little skates with Kyle Connor and Nik Ehlers. Not to mention Mathieu Perreault needs to be in the mix somewhere as well.
The home stand has been a good one for Bryan Little at least with three goals and an assist in the last five games while Kyle Connor has proven to be a decent line driver with Scheifele and Wheeler. The hope is that Little and Ehlers – neither of them really able to carry a line themselves – can benefit from the play of Connor.
Nik Ehlers is visibly pressing out there and the last time he scored, Patrik Laine hadn’t quite jumped onto the Fortnite train yet.
Perreault can play with almost anyone on the ice, but the one thing he can’t do is sit for almost an entire period of hockey and then be thrown on the ice and expected to do Matty P things, so it’ll be on Maurice to get him more ice time so that he can be more of an effective player.
3 – Will we ever tire of the “Matthews vs Laine” storyline?
Being that it may be one the the biggest reasons why tonight’s game is being broadcast on US cable television, not very likely. The NHL really hasn’t had a great #1 vs #2 draft pick story in well over a decade. 2010 saw the “Taylor vs Tyler” debate that saw Hall go first, but Seguin be the first to a Stanley Cup even if he wasn’t a truly central figure in that victory. Matthews was the clear pick to go first overall in 2016, but you could have easily made an argument for Laine. Their rookie seasons saw Matthews take the first step forward as he posted a 40 goal season and help lead the Leafs to the playoffs while Laine was hindered by injury and inconsistent play in his own end of the ice. Last season it was Matthews who had to deal with injuries and while he had a respectable 34 goal season helping the Leafs back to the playoffs again, it was Laine’s 44 goals and assisting of getting the Jets to the third round of the playoffs that stole the spotlight. Even in their first game, the two kids were at the center of an overtime classic.
Matthews at this point is the better overall player and likely will be unless something dramatic happens in Patrik Laine’s game. Laine will likely be the better overall offensive player although right now Auston is challenging for that. Laine has turned into a quote taker’s dream while Mathews has shown a flair for emotion in the game.
The only thing that would make this better is if both players were in the same conference and saw each other more.
Toronto fans, please look away right now.
Arizona Coyotes, hello. Austin Matthews is a RFA in 2019 and he’s a hometown boy. Just sayin…