Preview: Game #11 Leafs @ Jets – Rebuild

Hey look who used to play for Winnipeg! (River City Sports Blog)

There were five seasons when the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs shared a division. From 1980 to 1982, they were both part of the Campbell Conference’s Norris Division. In 1995 and 1996, both teams belonged to the Central Division in the Western Conference.

Not the current version of the Jets, mind you, although I believe the City of Winnipeg has a better claim to the history of the original Jets franchise, WHA and all, than the City of Glendale does. Some of the season ticket holders at tonight’s game at the MTS Centre will be old-timers who once had season tickets to see Bobby Hull, Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne. For all the superstars the Jets had, the first run Jets between 1979 and 1996 were groups synonymous with regular season mediocrity, that often found itself one-and-done in the playoffs.

The current slew of Leafs are probably not the calibre of Hull, Hawerchuk and Selanne, but since the end of the lockout, the Leafs have had several good players, but no “face” and no success. Mats Sundin was excellent from 2005 to 2008, but he had no supporting cast. From 2010-on, the Leafs have had Phil Kessel score a bunch of goals, and had a lot of other players do not much else, other than Dion Phaneuf, another player who could be a perennial all-star, try and anchor a defensive roster that has two other NHL players on it.

There are maybe five or six Leafs I’d carry into the next era if I were the general manager of this team: Kessel, Phaneuf, Mikhail Grabovski, Nik Kulemin, Clarke MacArthur and Carl Gunnarsson. There are a couple of more I like, but they generally play interchangeable roles and aren’t hugely important players. Matt Frattin and Nazem Kadri are, I think, playing successful hockey as products of the system and not directly contributing to its success. For all the talk about the team lacking a “face” or a “leader” what they’re really lacking is depth, and players who can move the puck, play two ways, and enter the zone in ways that don’t involve dumping the puck in.

The Jets on the other hand, have a very solid foundation, and actually a fairly underrated group of players. You might say they’re “led” by Andrew Ladd, but they had a lot of plus-possession players last year, and added Olli Jokinen to their group. Behind Ladd, they have a terrific young goal scorer in Evander Kane, the young two-way Alexander Burmistrov, and the exciting Blake Wheeler. Jim Slater was one of the top defensive centremen in the NHL last year, flanked on the wing by Chris Thorburn and James Wright, a line tasked nearly every shift with winning a defensive zone face-off and creating opportunities for the scorers.

Broadcast Info:

Puck Drop: 8 PM EST

TV: Leafs TV


Going by the “Fenwick Tied” statistic, that’s basically a measure of puck possession based on shot-differential statistics compiled by the National Hockey League, the Winnipeg Jets last season were the best team in the league to not make the playoffs, earning 50.2% of the overall shots at even strength with the score tied. They were ranked 12th in the league.

They were a mid-pack team in shooting percentage, a relatively efficient powerplay club and poor on the penalty kill. What else hurt them? Despite the proclamations of many a mainstream media member in Winnipeg, Ondrej Pavelec’s below average .917 save percentage at even strength hurt the club badly. Pavelec had to pick up a heavy workload, starting 67 games for the club, and earned a spot on the highlight-reel often with spectacular athletic saves. His style however frequently led to being caught out of position and overcommitting to one side let opposing forwards have easy cracks at open nets, goals that weren’t blamed on Pavelec, but judging how far away he is from the puck at any given moment in time he isn’t altogether void of blame.

So the Jets gave him an expensive extension, it was likely unwise, but here we go. Winnipeg are again a club getting little goaltending help: the team’s even strength save percentage of .898 is seventh-worst in the league, tied with Columbus. They have yet to find ways to out-shoot opponents this season and find themselves at a middling 4-4-1 after nine games. This is their lineup from their last game out:

Evander Kane – Olli Jokinen – Blake Wheeler
Alexander Burmistrov – Bryan Little – Andrew Ladd
Nik Antropov – Kyle Wellwood – Alexei Ponivarkovsky
James Wright – Jim Slater – Chris Thorburn

Ron Hainsey – Tobias Enstrom
Paul Postma – Grant Glitsome
Zach Redmond – Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Al Montoya

Dustin Byfuglien has missed the last few games with a lower-body injury but apparently hasn’t been ruled out for tonight. For the abuse he takes re: his appearance and his weight, Big Buff makes the Jets a better squad possession-wise, quite convincingly. The problem is whether or not he can continue to play out the end of his expensive contract at a high-level based on his fitness.

So that leaves the Jets defence a little short-handed, although Tobias Enstrom is one of the better young defencemen in the league. Last season he led the Jets in Corsi at 11.2 per 60 minutes of play and saw fairly decent QualComp. Generally the tough minutes were split between the top two pairings, the other being Zach Bogosian and Ron Hainsey, but Bogosian is also out to start the season, leaving Winnipeg without two of their best three defencemen tonight. It’s very “Southeast Division” of them to come into a game without much in the way of defence or goaltending.

Up front they’re strong though. That line of all ex-Leafs has yet to real come on scoring this year, but they’ve been quality at puck possession and Antropov has faced the toughest minutes of any Jet based on QualComp. The second line are the real possession demons, and they can score as well. Anybody who has ever had any of the players in the top six on a fantasy hockey team know how sneaky good they can be, even though any one guy has yet to break out offensively, they’re tied for 8th in the league so far at 3 goals a game.

Claude Noel is good at finding the right roles for guys, although that ended in some controversy when he sent down Mark Scheifele yesterday, unable to find regular room for him on Winnipeg’s top six. He’ll mix his lines periodically throughout the game to get a good matchup, he uses effective zone matching, and either him or Bruce Boudreau ought to have won the Jack Adams last year. Winnipeg’s in a rough spot now based on losing two of their best defencemen and not having scary goaltending, but the forwards present a difficult matchup situation for Randy Carlyle, and no obvious spot to shelter his third and fourth lines.

James Reimer, the Manitoban, will start. The Leafs will mix up their lines a bit, keeping David Steckel and Jay McClement on the fourth line and putting Leo Komarov with Kulemin and Grabovski, which is interesting. Same defensive pairings as last time around.

UPDATE – I spoke too soon. James Mirtle reports that Steckel will be out tonight, while Frazer McLaren draws back in.

(Statistical data accrued from behindthenet and

Game Day Notes: