JETBLAST: TORONTO @ WINNIPEG

JETBLAST

Toronto Maple Leafs (21-15-3)  at  Winnipeg Jets (19-12-7) 6:00 p.m., MTS Center,
TV: CBC Radio: TSN 1290
Two Canadian rivals will match up for the first time this season live across the nation on Hockey Night in Canada when Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs come to the MTS Center for a battle with the Winnipeg Jets. The Leafs are wrapping up a long road trip while the Jets play their third of four home games before heading out onto the road for a tough set in California. Perhaps the biggest story in the game tonight will be the players who aren’t in the game. The Jets struggles with injuries are well documented with their top 4 defenseman out as well as Evander Kane. The Leafs are not doing much better missing Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri, and possibly James van Riemsdyk who broke his nose last night in Minnesota. Both teams will be trying to overcome some injuries when they meet up Saturday night in the feature game of Hockey Night in Canada. Jets and Maple Leafs, Lets Go!

Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs have one of the most hated fan bases across the league, probably because of how rabid these fans are. The Leafs fans are always well represented at the MTS Center and it makes for a very exciting atmosphere in the building. Whether those fans will have anything to cheer for is always a toss of the dice. The Leafs have been one of the most inconsistent teams is recent memory, at times looking like contenders in the East, giving everyone tough games, and then they slide back into losing easy games and looking like they can hardly tie their own skates. Tonight is a tough match up for the team from Toronto, this will end a 7 game road trip, their longest of the season, due to the World Junior Hockey Championship. Tonight is also the second half of a back to back which started last night in Minnesota. The Leafs played a pretty strong road game but dropped a 3-1 decision to the Wild, they also may have lost another key player in James van Riemsdyk. JVR broke his nose after being hit by a Tyler Bozak shot, JVR missed some time but returned for one shift near the end of the game. He is listed is questionable headed into tonights game. The Leafs look to avoid looking forward to getting home and will try to end this road trip on a high note.

Jets

The Jets will be looking to get back on track after two straight regulation losses, 3 overall, after their most recent loss, a 5-2 crushing loss to the New York Islanders. The Isles are a tough team but the Jets need to be better as they were dominated for much of the game and it showed on the scoreboard. It is making fans wonder if these injuries are finally catching up to them. Still without word on any of the Jets long-term injuries, they need to accept the fact that they need to be able to win with the guys there. Sure, it will be great to have Zach Bogosian, Tobi Enstrom, and all the others back, but the Jets cannot afford to wait for them to make a push or they will find themselves far behind. Playing against a team on a long road trip, as well as a team on the second half of a back to back, may be the perfect remedy for what has been ailing the Jets. If they play their style, a hard hitting, forecheck, 100% effort kind of game, they will have an enormous advantage tonight. They need to use their speed and get into the dirty spots and bang and really force the Leafs to dig deep and see how much fuel is left in the tank. The last interesting storyline, as it always is this season will be between the pipes. The Jets have yet to announce their starter but it is likely they look back to Michael Hutchinson to get them back in the win column.

Keys to the Game

Phil Kessel: With all the injuries to the Leafs top 6, Kessel becomes even more important than he normally is for Toronto. Kessel leads the Leafs with 41 points this season and his speed and scoring ability makes him a threat every time he touches the puck. The Jets need to shut him down and the Leafs need him to be a dominant factor. Whichever team gets their way will have a far increased chance of leaving with a win.

Take Advantage: Yes, the Jets are still short defense and everyone looks to attack their back end and take advantage of some guys who may not normally be playing. Tonight however it is the Jets who must take advantage of a Leafs team who is ending a seven game road trip as well as playing the second of a back to back. Winnipeg needs to take the play to the Leafs, play physical and fast, and get two points.

Stay above the Line: The Winnipeg Jets have lost two straight and in the West that is enough to get you into trouble. The Jets need a win tonight to stay in the playoff picture, if not they risk falling behind and below the line. It is not a do or die by any stretch, but falling behind and fighting your way back, especially in the ultra competitive Western Conference is a far tougher task than staying ahead.

Starting Goalies

Michael Hutchinson (9-3-2) GAA: 1.87 SV% .937
James Reimer (6-6-0) GAA: 3.39 SV% .905

Injuries

Enstrom, WPG, (LBI) out
Trouba, WPG, (Undisclosed) out
Bogosian, WPG, (LBI) out
Stuart, WPG, (LBI) out
Kane, WPG, (LBI) out

Holland, TOR, (UBI) day-to-day
Lupul, TOR, (LBI) out
Kadri, TOR, (Unknown) out
van Riemsdyk, TOR, (Broken nose) day-to-day

Last 10 (W-L-OTL)

Jets: 5-3-2
Maple Leafs: 4-6-0

Prediction

Jets do everything they need, get back in the win column.
Jets 5 Maple Leafs 3

Become an MVP

Become an MVP with Winnipeg Whiteout and never miss a thing.

Diehard Winnipeg sports fan. Agree or disagree with something I wrote? Find me on twitter @seantheoilcan and let me know Go Jets Go!

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