James Reimer and the other Manitoba Boys in Blue & White make a quick trip home tonight as Toronto visits Winnipeg. Both teams have high playoff hopes, but the Leafs aim to ground the Jets when the puck drops at 8:00 pm EST.
Here are four factors that could stand in their path to victory:
1) Reimer is projected to get the start tonight and Winnipeg is one of his favourite places to play. He grew up as a Jets fan, but his loyalty belongs strictly to the Leafs these days. The young goaltender has fared pretty well against Winnipeg in his short career despite some strong heckling from the local fans. Is Reimer able to keep up his strong play against the Jets?
Reimer allowed four goals before getting pulled in the third period. The loss cannot be put squarely on his shoulders since the team in front of him was terrible, but once again, Reimer failed to bailout the Leafs when they needed it.
2) Tonight is the second of three matchups between the Leafs and the Jets this season. Toronto won the first contest 3-2 and has an early chance to win the season series. Working in their favour, Toronto brings an impressive 9-5-0 road record into Winnipeg. If the Leafs want to make the playoffs, it’s critical that they win a majority of season matchups. Can Toronto put this season series away ahead of schedule?
The new question is: Can Toronto recover from this embarrassment and win the final game of the season between the two teams on Saturday? The pressure is now on them.
3) We’ve already seen the Leafs try a number of experiments with Dion Phaneuf this season. He began the season playing alongside Michael Kostka before getting paired with Korbinian Holzer. The Phaneuf-Holzer tandem was a mainstay until last Saturday’s game against the Penguins when Phaneuf was repaired with Cody Franson. Both players carry some offensive firepower and this was evident on Franson’s power play goal, which drew an assist from Phaneuf. The new pairing also looked good defensively, limiting the damage done by Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. Do the Leafs keep the new paring intact?
Phaneuf was reunited with Holzer and finished a healthy +2. For his part, Franson was reunited with Mark Fraser and finished -1.
4) Phil Kessel exploded for three points (1 goal, 2 assists) on Saturday and has scored a total of seven points (3 goals, 4 assists) in his last four games. Kessel is quietly regaining his offensive touch and now only sits two points behind Nazem Kadri for the team lead. Can he close the gap?
Kessel’s two goals on the night put him into a tie with Kadri for the team lead in points!
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