Plenty of buzz around the rink when an Original Six franchise comes to town to face the Winnipeg Jets and this edition of the Toronto Maple Leafs has plenty of Manitoba connections, so it should be an interesting tilt at MTS Centre on Thursday night.
Puck drop is slated for 7:05 p.m.
The Jets are looking to build off a 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers, while the Maple Leafs are 5-5 but are an impressive 4-1 on the road this season.
“You don’t want to be getting a transition game and helping them, they’ve got some forwards that can go,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel. “They’ve got balanced scoring and we’re aware of some of their top guys and what they can do. I know there’s been a lot of media attention towards (the Phil Kessel slump). We know something could change there, we’re just hoping it doesn’t change tonight.”
Kessel has been generating plenty of opportunities but has now gone 10 games without scoring a goal.
“We all know that he likes to shoot the puck and when you’re snake-bitten, you’re shooting it even more,” said Jets defenceman Grant Clitsome. “They’re a team with a lot of speed, they’re a team with a lot of speed. Their forwards are quick and they attack in transition. They’re dangerous and we’ve got to be aware all of the time.”
Plenty of talk in the morning revolved around Jets blue-liner Toby Enstrom, who leads all D-men with 12 points in nine games.
“I’ve scored a lot of points and it’s always fun to score a lot of points and help the team out that way, but I’ve been playing a little too much up and down and I want to change that,” said Enstrom. “I want to improve on pretty much everything. I want to be that solid player that plays an all-around good team game. That always has been my thing. I want to help the team out in the best way I can.
“It doesn’t really matter if guys are out or not, I always put a lot of pressure on myself and I always want to do well. It all comes down to winning.”
Enstrom, who is riding a seven-game consecutive point streak, has been making a conscious effort to shoot more and the results have been favourable.
“People are well aware of him and well aware of what he does — he can do it on the power play and he can do it 5-on-5. He’s a smart player for us,” said Noel. “Last year, he had a decent year but this year he’s more comfortable with the situation, with the coaches and that seems to lend itself to a good start. He’s appreciated in the league.”
The Jets will start Ondrej Pavelec in goal for the ninth time in 10 games and don’t appear to be making any alterations to their lineup, while the Maple Leafs look to use the same players but are making a switch in goal to James Reimer after earning a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night.
Reimer attracted quite a crowd in the Leafs’ locker room for his scrum.
Same goes for Winnipeggers Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren, who will both be playing their first games in their hometown this evening.
McLaren took the morning skate for the San Jose Sharks last season, but didn’t get in the game.
“It’s nice of Randy (Carlyle) to tell me that I’m playing so I can get prepared,” said McLaren. “Just to be able to play in my hometown is a big thrill.”
McLaren has no points in three games with the Maple Leafs after he was claimed off waivers from the Sharks.
“They obviously knew what type of player I was when they picked me up,” said McLaren. “I just try to go out there and play my role. Everyone in the organization has been great and made me feel welcome. I just try to contribute when I’m called upon.”
In other Jets news, D-man Zach Bogosian skated with the team for the first time since April after undergoing off-season wrist surgery, but there’s no updated time table for his return.
Bogosian will travel with the Jets to Ottawa tomorrow, but remains “a ways away” according to head coach Claude Noel.
As for Dustin Byfuglien, he skated for the first time since suffering his mysterious lower-body injury but won’t play tonight.
Noel was vague when asked for an update, so it’s possible he won’t be back until next week.
Here’s how we expect both teams to start on Thursday:
Evander Kane-Olli Jokinen-Blake Wheeler
Andrew Ladd-Alex Burmistrov-Bryan Little
Alexei Ponikarovsky-Nik Antropov-Kyle Wellwood
James Wright-Jim Slater-Chris Thorburn
Toby Enstrom-Ron Hainsey
Mark Stuart-Zach Redmond
Grant Clitsome-Paul Postma
Ondrej Pavelec (Al Montoya)
James van Riemsdyk-Tyler Bozak-Phil Kessel
Jay McClement-Mikhail Grabovski-Nikolai Kulemin
Matt Frattin-Nazem Kadri-Clarke MacArthur
Frazer McLaren-Leo Komarov-Colton Orr
Dion Phaneuf-Mike Kostka
John-Michael Liles-Korbinian Holzer
Mark Fraser-Cody Franson
James Reimer (Ben Scrivens)