TORONTO — The stage is set for what should be a hotly-anticipated tilt as the Winnipeg Jets make their only visit of the 2013 season to the Air Canada Centre to face the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Jets have been red-hot of late, putting together a nice run that has seen them move to 14-11-2, just one point behind the Maple Leafs, who have lost four consecutive games (0-3-1) for the first time this season.
This is the first time the Jets are playing in the centre of the hockey universe on a Saturday night and getting a national audience in prime time, rather than the somewhat regular matinee time slot.
“I remember when we were in Atlanta, we didn’t have a lot of Hockey Night in Canada games and when we did, guys were definitely up for them and playing on national TV,” said Jets winger Evander Kane. “You grew up as a kid watching hockey on Saturday nights and now you’re out there doing it, so it’s fun.”
The Maple Leafs will be looking to rebound from Tuesday’s loss to the Jets.
“One of the things we’re starting to get better is our starts to these games. We’re trying to punch first instead of second. We have to get right into this game tonight,” said Maple Leafs centre Nazem Kadri. “This is going to be as much of a playoff game as you get. They’re a good team, they know what they are fighting for. They’ve been on a pretty good run.
“But for us, we’re playing desperate hockey right now. We need these points.”
The standings-watch has been a popular line of questioning in many dressing rooms during the lockout season and that remained the case on Saturday.
“We keep a close eye on (the standings). Not just on Winnipeg, but other teams below us and teams above us too,” said Kadri. “At the end of the day, we want to be in first place and we don’t think that’s an uncommon goal. We’re all working towards it.”
The Jets have similar aspirations of catching the Carolina Hurricanes and taking a run at the Southeast Division crown and a strong showing this weekend against the Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators could help them take that next step.
However, with a loss or two, the grip on even the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference becomes tenuous.
As for the lineups, the Jets look to be going with what has been working of late. Forward Alex Burmistrov is a healthy scratch for the third consecutive game, while D-man Paul Postma is out for the fourth straight game.
Obviously, there’s been a lot of fan reaction to Burmistrov sitting out again on Twitter but just because he’s out again doesn’t mean the Jets are shopping him or that his time with the Jets is winding down.
Burmistrov is a young player with plenty of upside, but sitting out as a healthy scratch is part of the learning process — just look at what Kadri went through as a young player before finally settling and becoming more of an impact player this season.
For the Maple Leafs, Joffrey Lupul is in for Winnipegger Frazer McLaren and D-men Mike Komisarek and Mike Kostka remain on the sidelines as John-Michael Liles plays his second in a row.
Ondrej Pavelec is in net for the Jets and the Maple Leafs will go with Ben Scrivens.
Here’s how we expect both teams to start on Saturday:
Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane, Olli Jokinen, Antti Miettinen
James Wright, Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood
Eric Tangradi, Patrice Cormier, Chris Thorburn
Grant Clitsome, Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey, Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart, Derek Meech
Ondrej Pavelec (Eddie Pasquale)
James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin
Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin
Leo Komarov, Jay McClement, Colton Orr
Carl Gunnarsson, Dion Phaneuf
John-Michael Liles, Korbinian Holzer
Mark Fraser, Cody Franson
Ben Scrivens (James Reimer)