Following the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 6-3 win at Bell MTS Place back on Thursday, the Winnipeg Jets will be seeking redemption in Toronto later tonight. During the Jets’ two games since their defeat against the Leafs, they’ve earned three points in the standings and have surged back into the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
As for Toronto, they’re coming off an embarrassing 6-4 defeat against the Edmonton Oilers. During that contest at home, captain Connor McDavid generated a highlight-worthy goal after he undressed Leafs’ defensemen, Morgan Rielly, before sending the puck past Michael Hutchinson. After being on the wrong end of every highlight show in North America, the Leafs will undoubtedly be seeking to turn things around against the Jets.
1) Special Teams Playing Key Role
Since the start of December, both the Jets and Leafs have been two of the better teams with the man advantage throughout the entire league. During that span, Toronto owns the best power-play conversion rate (35.1%) in the league, with Winnipeg sitting in second with their 27.7% success rate on the power play. In addition, neither of these two teams has been successful on the penalty kill since the beginning of December as well.
Entering tonight’s game, the Jets have recorded the worst success rate (67.4%) and the Leafs have produced the 15th-worst conversion rate (77.5%) with their penalty-killing unit within that time-frame. Despite Toronto (112) and Winnipeg (131) both sitting in the bottom-20 in total penalty minutes since the start of December, their special teams’ units could play a major factor in determining the winner of tonight’s game.
2) Dmitry Kulikov’s Potential Return
During Tuesday’s practice, Dmitry Kulikov returned as a red-shirt regular. Meaning, the 29-year-old could make his awaited return to the Jets’ lineup in Toronto against the Leafs. Following practice back on Tuesday, the Jets’ defensemen spoke to the media and explained when he expects to be activated from the injured reserve.
"I'm assuming in these next two games, I'll get a chance to play." -Dmitry Kulikov to reporters today.
Winnipeg's typical move here is to go by the previous depth chart — that is, taking Niku out to make room. Bitetto is perhaps also a possibility, based on TOI per game.
— Murat Ates (@WPGMurat) January 7, 2020
Based on Kulikov’s comments, there’s a good possibility that the left-hander is healthy enough to return to action against the Leafs later tonight. If coach Paul Maurice feels that Kulikov needs an extra day of rest, then he’ll very likely play Thursday night in Boston. Prior to suffering his upper-body injury back on Nov. 29, Kulikov had recorded one goal and four points through 25 games played.
3) Jets Physically Dominate Once Again
During Toronto’s victory back on Thursday, their team was significantly out hit by Winnipeg. The Jets created a total of 24 hits, while the Leafs failed to produce more than just ten hits throughout the game. Toronto has also been the least physical team in the league since Dec. 1, as their team has recorded the lowest total hits (199) along with the fewest hits/60 minutes (2.52) as well.
Furthermore, Winnipeg has performed as one of the best hitting teams throughout the league since Dec. 18. During their nine games, the Jets have generated the seventh-most total hits (221) and the eighth-best hits/60 minutes (4.96) ratio as well. Based on these recent results, the Jets should be able to continue to bully the Leafs in the corners and along the boards once again.
Following a high paced opening 20 minutes, the Jets and Leafs will enter the second period tied at 2-2. Despite a scoreless second period, both Toronto and Winnipeg will produce shot totals above 20 before the start of the third period. During the final 20 minutes, a pair of goals from Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler along with a stellar performance from Connor Hellebuyck will lead to the Jets’ 4-2 victory over the Leafs.