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Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Winnipeg Jets Preview: True North

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The Leafs journey to Manitoba for a two-game set against the Jets.

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Toronto Maple Leafs Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Game 36: Toronto Maple Leafs at Winnipeg Jets

Time: Wednesday at 7:30 PM
Place: Bell MTS Place
Channel: Sportsnet

Game 37: Toronto Maple Leafs at Winnipeg Jets

Time: Friday at 8:00 PM
Place: Bell MTS Place
Channel: TSN

Well, here we are. If the Leafs win Game 36, they’ll finish the night where they started it: atop the North Division. If the Jets win it in regulation, they’ll move into first place. I went looking for a song that would work for both the Jets and the Leafs, and I went with this.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards
Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Alex Galchenyuk - John Tavares - William Nylander
Joe Thornton - Alexander Kerfoot - Jason Spezza
Ilya Mikheyev - Pierre Engvall - Wayne Simmonds

Defence
Morgan Rielly - T.J. Brodie
Jake Muzzin - Justin Holl
Travis Dermott - Zach Bogosian

Goaltenders
Jack Campbell
Michael Hutchinson

Lines are care of Daily Faceoff.

No Sheldon Keefe forward lineup lasts long once he gets rolling, so expect everything to be thrown into the blender halfway through the first period. The most interesting development in recent games has been the early success of Alex Galchenyuk as a 2LW. Galch obviously has offensive skill and has since his early days as a third overall pick, but it hasn’t been enough to stick around with several teams, so a wait-and-see attitude is probably fair. Still, it’s encouraging that he’s showing well so far, even if it shouldn’t stop Kyle Dubas from acquiring any wingers whose names might rhyme with Zaylor Zall.

The weirder arrangement is that bottom six, where Alexander Kerfoot is flanked by two old men (in hockey terms) and zero-offence Pierre Engvall centres two guys who love shooting. No third line has really checked all the boxes this year for Toronto, so if the Leafs do go deadline shopping, maybe the place to invest is at centre. Or maybe that grab bag will work well enough to go on.

The defence is the same as it’s been for a while now. In net, Our Lord and Savior Jack Campbell returns to the net after a night off for maintenance on Monday.

Winnipeg Jets

Forwards
Paul Stastny - Mark Scheifele - Blake Wheeler
Kyle Connor - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Nikolaj Ehlers
Andrew Copp - Adam Lowry - Mason Appleton
Mathieu Perreault - Nate Thompson - Trevor Lewis

Defence
Josh Morrissey - Tucker Poolman
Derek Forbort - Neal Pionk
Logan Stanley - Dylan Demelo

Goaltenders
Connor Hellebuyck
Laurent Brossoit

The Jets have a distinctive style: they get crushed statistically, but they count on very good goaltending, a proclivity for rush chances, some great forwards, and a decent power play to overcome the fact the other team usually controls play. Your opinion of them probably rests on how sustainable a plan you think that is.

On the one hand: the Jets are 26th in expected goals (5v5 adjusted.) Of the bottom ten teams in that stat, nine are not in a playoff spot at time of writing, and the other one is Winnipeg. They’re 23rd in Corsi and scoring chances, so it’s not like there’s some other angle on this where they’re controlling play. Normally we would consider this to be bad!

On the other hand, the Jets have some capacity to outscore their problems and Connor Hellebuyck is a fantastic goaltender—maybe the best in the world right now. It’s a bit like if the Carlyle Leafs had the personnel to actually execute on their plan, instead of just hoping for Phil Kessel to do something and then leaving James Reimer to get barraged. Even if the Jets were to regress towards their 5v5 numbers, they’ve banked enough points that they should still comfortably make the playoffs, where they could be a very tough out as long as Hellebuyck holds up.

You know the Jets reasonably well by this point, so I’ll just note that Nikolaj Ehlers might be their second-best forward and seems exceptionally suited for a rush-based offence. He’s shredded the Leafs before and may do so again. On the other hand, the Jets’ defence is straight-up bad any way you slice it. I keep expecting that to catch up with them, and thus far it hasn’t, so what do I know?

Ultimately the Jets have one great argument going for them: so far it’s worked. I think the Leafs are an objectively better team, but the only way you prove that is by winning. These two games would help.

Go Leafs Go!