Coming off of two straight losses, the Toronto Maple Leafs will look to rebound in the first of a two-game set against a legitimate Cup contender in the Winnipeg Jets.

Tonight’s game will be broadcast nationally across the US on NBC — the first all-Canadian matchup to ever be featured on the network. That gives you a pretty good idea of the marketability of this Laine vs. Matthews storyline — which has delivered in spades in these matchups so far — in the league’s eyes as well as just how talented these two rosters are.

The Jets, like the Leafs, have been average as far as their share of possession (15th), shots (14th), and scoring chances (24th), but they still sport a 6-2-1 record entering into tonight’s game. It’s common for talented offensive teams with dependable goaltending to outscore their possession numbers, but it’s no doubt a goal of both clubs to control the run of play at even strength more than they have in the early going.

Patrik Laine moves onto the Jets top line tonight with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, replacing Kyle Connor, who’s spent the first nine games on that line up until tonight. With Connor on the wing, the line has been significantly out-chanced and outshot so far this season. One wouldn’t have expected that to continue forever into the future with the mix of size, skill and speed on that line, but Paul Maurice has decided to shake it up and move onto the left wing, making an already stacked top unit all the more lethal and difficult to contain, be it off the rush or the cycle.

For Toronto, Travis Dermott will come out of the lineup due to an illness, with Martin Marincin stepping in as a replacement in what counts as a definite blow for the Leafs. While Marincin has acquitted himself alright in his first two games and is a real asset on the penalty kill, quick and clean zone exits are vital against a team that can forecheck as well as the Jets can and the Leafs are now without one of their better puck movers and problem solvers on the blue line.

The size, talent and overall depth of the Jets should make for a stiff challenge for a Leafs team that has been outworked in the trenches the past few games against the Penguins and Blues. The Leafs‘ best players need to be their best players — including a big matchup challenge for one of Matthews or Tavares in the Scheifele head to head — and they’ll also need to have more than two lines going against a Jets team that can roll four with the best of them when on their game.

Not that the broadcast won’t have this covered ad nauseam, but so far in the four Matthews vs. Laine matchups, Laine has five goals and an assist, while Matthews has one goal and seven assists. This matchup brings the best out of each player and we should be in for a treat over the next 120 minutes of hockey.


Game Day Quotes

Babcock on the Jets defense:

The better the blueline, the harder it is to get in on them. They do a good job of staying up in the offensive zone, too, to make it hard on you. I think you know pretty well what you’re getting going into the game, so we’re excited to play and we look forward to it.

Babcock on if players are motivated by playing good teams:

As much as you say every day is the same, and you [need to] be a professional and all that, sometimes the other opponent helps you prepare just by looking at them. You look at the standings and you look at what they’ve got and you know you better be ready to go.

Babcock on Patrik Laine:

They’re a good team, whether Laine’s playing with Little or playing with Scheifele. I think they’ve got depth right through. They’ve good depth on the backend and in goaltending. They’ve been building it for a long period of time. Scheifele’s not a kid anymore he’s 25. You look at Wheeler — he’s a 32-year-old guy. They’ve been building the program and it’s taken them some time, but now they’ve got the pieces.

Matthews and Tavares on the challenge for the team tonight:

Matthews: “It starts with speed and I think just the willingness to outmuscle and outbattle the other guy across from you. It’s going to be important tonight, especially against a big, heavy team like Winnipeg. They do a good job of getting guys away from their net and breaking out quick.”

Tavares: “They have a lot of good attributes, from the speed they play the game with to the size have — just being long and being able to close away time and space. They have great depth at every position. They proved that, obviously, throughout the last couple of years and in the deep playoff runs they made last year.


Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

Forwards

#12 Patrick Marleau – #34 Auston Matthews – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#26 Par Lindholm – #43 Nazem Kadri – #28 Connor Brown
#32 Josh Leivo – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #63 Tyler Ennis

Defensemen

#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#51 Jake Gardiner – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#52 Martin Marincin – #92 Igor Ozhiganov

Goaltenders

#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks

Scratched: Andreas Johnsson, Justin Holl, William Nylander (unsigned RFA)

Injured: Travis Dermott (sick)


Winnipeg Jets Projected Lines

Forwards

#29 Patrik Laine – #55 Mark Scheifele – #26 Blake Wheeler
#81 Kyle Connor – #18 Bryan Little – #27 Nikolaj Ehlers
#9 Andrew Copp – #17 Adam Lowry – #13 Brandon Tanev
#48 Brendan Lemieux – #28 Jack Roslovic – #85 Mathieu Perreault

Defensemen

#44 Josh Morrissey – #8 Jacob Trouba
#7 Ben Chiarot – #33 Dustin Byfuglien
#5 Dmitry Kulikov – #57 Tyler Myers

Goaltenders

#37 Connor Hellebuyck
#30 Laurent Brossoit


MLHS Podcast – Episode #4

A good game day listen, Alec, Anthony and Declan share their thoughts on the Leafs’ first nine games of the season, line by line and pairing by pairing, on episode #4 of the Maple Leafs Hot Stove podcast.