A tougher test for Garret Sparks is expected tonight as the Toronto Maple Leafs pay a visit to the Winnipeg Jets (7:30 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).

With Ondrej Pavelec hurt, the Jets will also be trotting out a rookie goaltender making only his second ever NHL start. Connor Hellebuyck is expected to man the pipes having won his first game versus Minnesota on Friday — he wasn’t able to pull off the full Garret Sparks, though, as his shutout was spoiled with eleven minutes remaining in the third.

As the Leafs did for Sparks, the Jets also kept the rookie’s workload limited in Hellebuyck’s debut, allowing just 16 shots on net in the 3-1 win. Michael Hutchison allowed four goals on 24 shots the next night versus Colorado, so Paul Maurice has gone back to Hellebuyck even though the Jets are off until Saturday following tonight’s game.

While they’re off to a disappointing 11-12-2 start — held back by a 28th-ranked powerplay, and third-worst team save percentage — the Jets rank eighth in the NHL in 5v5 shot attempts, and sixth in 5v5 goals for. An aggressive team with size — as of their opening day roster, they were the second heaviest team at an average of 208.2 pounds per player, and the tallest on average at 73.6 inches per player — Sparks can expect to contend with more rubber and more traffic tonight.

The Leafs will want to do some of the same to Hellebuyck, and the earlier in the game the better against a goalie who’s hardly been tested.

The Jets’ top line of Wheeler, Ladd and Bryan Little has been a handful for opponents this season — Wheeler is eighth among NHL scoring leaders with 25 points in 25 games, while Little has 20 in 25. With Lupul on injury reserve, the Spaling, Winnik and Grabner line was Babcock’s matchup on Monday versus the Oilers’ top trio of Taylor Hall, Leon Draisaitl and Teddy Purcell, and they were snowed under from a shot attempt perspective. You’re not expecting them to win the possession battle so much as limit the damage in terms of scoring chances, but they were in the low 30s in CF% over 9-10 5v5 minutes against that line, which is asking for trouble if it continues. Same goes for the top pairing of Morgan Rielly and Matt Hunwick, who have been overwhelmed of late in the top matchups.

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lineup

Left WingCenterRight Wing
van RiemsdykKadriKomarov
Injured: Lupul
Left DefenceRight Defence
Scratched: Corrado
Goal: Sparks (S), Reimer

Mike Babcock Game Day