Who: Toronto Maple Leafs (3-0-1; 7 points) vs Winnipeg Thrashers (1-3-0; 2 points)
What: Game #5 of the 2011-12 NHL Season
Where: The Air Canada Centre in beautiful Toronto, Ontario
When: 7:30pm on TSN (Ontario), RIS, and TSN-Jets (Manitoba)
Why: Because True North took so long in buying the Thrashers that the NHL schedule was already finalized for the upcoming season, hence a team from Manitoba playing in the Eastern Conference.
Follow me after the jump for a look at why in tonight's game the Toronto Maple Leafs' exceptional quality in multiple facets will be the deciding factor.
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Four games into the season, one wouldn't be incorrect in stating that this is some of the highest quality Leafs hockey witnessed since the lockout. Virtually every player is firing on all cylinders, and as a result the Leafs are on a 1.75 points per game pace, well above the requisite 1.16 points per game pace for entrance into the Playoffs.
As evident by his recent selection as the NHL first star of the week, Phil Kessel is on an absolute tear with 6 goals and 9 points to lead the league in each category. Well known for possessing one of the deadliest shots in the game, what's helped Kessel achieve such early season success has been his 37.5 shooting percentage. Contrary to the statement of his teammates, this drastic increase can be attributed to Kessel shot selection being limited to only the highest quality of chances. He's either been banging them in from in close, or sniping them from his favorite spot, the right hash marks, while on the rush. This newer, smarter, more selective Kessel, in my opinion, will continue to pay huge dividends for the Leafs tonight as I see the lamp being lit as least once by Phil the Thrill.
Also working in favor for the Leafs is the smart decision by coach Ron Wilson to start James Reimer tonight. With the best goalie the Leafs have seen in quite some time between the pipes, the rest of the Leafs should play with a confidence that would be wavering had Jonas Gustavsson gotten his first start of the season instead. Meanwhile the Jets will start goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, whose .880 sv% will not bolster his team at all. With the rock that is Reimer in net, the Leafs can afford to play with some extra bravado and really take it to the Jets all game long. Nothing less than a 110% effort will be shown by the Buds on the ACC ice tonight as they will out work and out hustle the team from Manitoba.
Lastly, when you look at the overall offenses and defenses of both teams, the Jets' overall quality is lacking compared to the Leafs. Both teams have 4 game played, yet the Jets have a -7 goal differential (7 for, 14 against) compared to the Leafs' +3 (13 for, 10 against). When you look at the players' on ice goal differentials (more commonly called their +/- stat) the Jets are again outclassed by the Leafs. Dion Phaneuf has a league leading +8, with Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel (both severely underrated defensively responsible forwards) tied for 3rd with a +6. By comparison, Winnipeg's best player is a measly +3 (Alexander Burmistrov). Overall Jets players are a -18 and Leafs players are a +19. That's a 37 goal difference!
As I said in the opening, tonight is all about quality and when you look at it the Leafs simply have more quantitative quality than do the Jets. Tonight's game will be a testament to this.
GO LEAFS GO!