The Maple Leafs are seeking a better start than Wednesday’s game as they hope to enter the bye week on a high note in the rematch against the Winnipeg Jets (7:00 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
Quick summary of all of the lineup changes from the Leafs‘ 1-0 overtime win on Wednesday: Tyler Bertuzzi returns for the Leafs (expected to rejoin John Tavares and William Nylander), Mark Giordano swaps in for Conor Timmins on the Toronto blue line, Gabe Vilardi returns for the Jets, and Connor Hellebuyck is expected to start in the Winnipeg net. The Leafs lost Calle Jarnkrok to a broken knuckle sustained in Friday’s practice and will insert Ryan Reaves onto the fourth line with Bobby McMann unavailable due to injury. The Jets’ #1D, Josh Morrissey, missed most of Wednesday’s game and is a game-time decision but is expected to play tonight.
Much of the emphasis for the Leafs tonight begins with their start to the game after they were caved in during the opening 20 minutes of Wednesday’s game in terms of territorial control and scoring chances. It improved somewhat in the final 40 minutes as the Leafs started to find their way through the Jets’ forecheck and complete some passes on the breakout with a little more regularity, but the scoring chances and shot attempts favoured the Jets in each period.
How the Leafs manage the puck on the breakout coming out of the gates — and withstand the early-game emotions of the atmosphere / the energy of the Jets — is going to be critical to tonight’s result. As we saw on Wednesday, once this Jets team gets on top of their opposition, it can be tough to get off the mat with how structured, disciplined, and hard-working they are over their four lines and three pairs.
The Leafs, led by Ilya Samsonov’s play in net, somehow survived the Jets’ early push on Wednesday, but they aren’t likely to repeat the feat with a similar first-period performance on the road, and with Winnipeg’s defensive excellence, the first goal is especially critical. The Jets are 19-2-1 after scoring the first goal this season.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the points of emphasis heading into the rematch vs. the Jets:
Urgency on our breakouts would be a big part of it. They were causing us some real problems in the first period the other night, and we didn’t move the puck well. Also, they make it hard on you. When we don’t move it at our sharpest, and this team forechecks and defends the way that they do, it is going to be difficult on you.
I thought it was less of an issue through the second and third periods. We kind of found our way through it. That is a big piece of it.
The other side is finding ways to get access to the net. They have done an incredible job of protecting their goaltenders this year. We certainly saw that the other night.
Jets head coach Rick Bowness on the Saturday night atmosphere in Winnipeg for a Leafs vs. Jets matchup:
There is always a great atmosphere here. I know the Leafs bring their fans out as well. This is a great rink to play in when it is full. It is a great rink to play in when there is a lot of noise in the stands, which there will be tonight.
It’s a lone single game, but the Leafs bring the best out of everybody. They will be better tonight than they were on Wednesday, so we will have to be better.
Keefe on the expectations for Ryan Reaves in his first game since December 14:
Reavo has played for a long time. He has been in this position coming in and out of this lineup throughout his career. I think he knows exactly who he is as a player and what he needs to do. For us, it is just about getting him in and giving him that opportunity. It comes at a good time, too.
It is the end of the — we’ll call it — first half with the break looming. For him to come in, it will give the room, the bench, and the guys a little bit of a boost. It will be an emotional game. It is good timing for that.
Bowness on the Jets’ power play’s 2-for-28 stretch:
There have been too many games where late in games it could’ve made the difference. The Toronto game comes to mind as well, but there have been five or six games lately where we had a late power play and did nothing with it. It has cost us a couple of points. There is no question.
The second unit has been fine. The first unit hasn’t been able to find any chemistry, probably because we keep moving bodies around. The second unit creates chances. They have our last few games.
It has been challenged [to be better] and it will continue to be challenged.
Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. Jets
In the season-to-date statistics, the Jets hold the advantage over the Leafs in three out of five offensive categories and five out of five defensive categories.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#23 Matthew Knies – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#89 Nick Robertson – #11 Max Domi – #29 Pontus Holmberg
#18 Noah Gregor – #64 David Kampf – #75 Ryan Reaves
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#2 Simon Benoit – #22 Jake McCabe
#55 Mark Giordano – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#31 Martin Jones
Scratched: William Lagesson, Conor Timmins
Injured: Bobby McMann, Calle Jarnkrok, John Klingberg, Joseph Woll
Winnipeg Jets Projected Lines
#81 Kyle Connor – #7 Vladislav Namestnikov – #13 Gabriel Vilardi
#91 Cole Perfetti – #21 Dominic Toninato – #22 Mason Appleton
#62 Nino Nederreiter – #17 Adam Lowry – #27 Nikolaj Ehlers
#36 Morgan Barron – #15 Rasmus Kupari – #9 Alex Iafallo
#44 Josh Morrissey – #2 Dylan DeMelo
#5 Brendan Dillon – #4 Neal Pionk
#54 Dylan Samberg – #88 Nate Schmidt
Starter: #37 Connor Hellebuyck
#39 Laurent Brossoit
Injured/Out: Mark Scheifele, Ville Heinola, David Gusafsson