The Leafs take on Canada’s youngest team tonight in Winnipeg. Worlds collide at 8:00 pm EST.
Here are four factors that could stand in the Leafs path to victory:
1) The Jets are a special team for two Leafs: head coach Randy Carlyle spent the majority of his professional career playing for the Jets while goaltender James Reimer grew up as a Jets fan. Reimer is also one of Manitoba’s favourite sons alongside Jonathan Toews. How do the Jets faithful receive the two Leafs tonight?
Carlyle was greeted with a standing ovation while Reimer was jeered throughout the game. I love having hockey back, and I love having hockey back in Winnipeg even more!
2) Special teams continue to plague the Leafs. They have trouble scoring on the man advantage and they’re barely able to kill off penalties on a consistent basis. As I’ve said before, it’s hard to compete in the NHL and make the playoffs when a club’s special teams are mediocre. The Leafs have spent significant time working on these two areas. Do we finally see some of the payoff tonight?
Both teams surrendered shorthanded goals and the Leafs ultimately won with a power play tally from Kessel. Needless to say, special teams weren’t really the highlight of either team’s play.
3) Today is the 37th anniversary of former Leafs captain Darryl Sittler’s magical ten-point night (6 goals, 4 assists) against the Boston Bruins. The feat still stands as a league record and no one is posed to break it anytime soon. At the same time, however, it’s not unthinkable to expect a multi-point night from some of the Leafs’ struggling superstars. Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf, in particular, are long overdue for a dominant performance. Can they capture some of the Sittler magic tonight?
A surprise candidate in Tyler Bozak finished the night as the Leafs’ only player to score more than one point. May be it’s a centerman thing?
4) Speaking of dominant performances, James van Riemsdyk practically beat the Washington Capitals by himself on Tuesday. JVR’s first goal was particularly impressive (or embarrassing from the Capitals’ perspective). His second goal, on the other hand, is exactly the type of goal the Leafs expect from the big man: the result of strong net presence. Is JVR able to build off this performance?
JVR made his presence known and looked good playing alongside Kessel and Bozak on the first line. However, he was an unhealthy -2 on the night, which should raise some continued concern in terms of defensive play.
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