Leafs fans can expect to see plenty of familiar faces at tonight's game as the Leafs will celebrate Homecoming 2015. Many Leafs alumni have come back from all over North American and various parts of the world for a Hockey Night in Canada tilt with the Jets where the Leafs will unveil the next two players to be added to Legends Row at Air Canada Centre.
Jonathan Bernier is slated to return to the Leafs crease tonight after James Reimer played Friday's first leg of the back-to-back in Carolina. Joffrey Lupul will also return to the Leafs lineup tonight. He has missed the last four games with a lower body injury.
"We get another veteran, one of our leaders and obviously a quality player," said interim coach Peter Horachek. "As much as we can get him back in the lineup he can make a difference in the locker room and it's good to have him back."
"Obviously the game doesn't have the same meaning it would if we were chasing a playoff spot," said Lupul. "But as soon as you get on the ice you want to win the game. Hopefully I can bring a little bit of that attitude and help this team win, especially on home ice."
Dion Phaneuf's status is day-to-day with his injury and he is projected to make his return next week. Andrew MacWilliam was loaned to the Toronto Marlies on Saturday morning after his emergency recall.
The Jets enter Saturday's game as a well-rested group after heading to Toronto following a 5-1 loss on Thursday at the hands of the Washington Capitals.
Winnipeg will be looking for a bounceback performance from their group. The Jets are trying to fend off the Kings, sharks and others in a very tight Western Conference playoff race. They currently sit in the top wild card position in the conference standings.
“Toronto has scored as many goals as us, they’re over .500 at home, and their last five games have been tight,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “We’ve done a pretty good job this year of being ready to play in games that might be called trap games.”
The Leafs couldn't find an equalizer in Carolina on Friday night and droppd a 2-1 scoreline to the Hurricanes. Brandon Kozun scored his first NHL goal in the loss.
Toronto is 1-8-1 in their last 10 and 16-13-0 at home this season.
The Jets are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games as they find themsleves in the midst of a fight for a Western Conference wildcard spot. They are coming off of a 5-1 loss to the Capitals on Thursday night.
Winnipeg is 15-10-4 on the road this season.
The Jets got the better of the Leafs in their first meeting of the season in Winnipeg. A four goal second period saw Winnipeg take a 3-1 lead over the Leafs before adding two in the third period to make it a 5-1 final.
Tonight is the second and final meeting of the season between the two teams.
ONE TO WATCH
Little has been the de factor number one centre for the Jets/Franchise for a number of years now and, with the team's resurgence this season, his numbers have experienced a jump as well. Little currently leads the Jets in points with 49 in his 60 games played.
Over his eight seasons, Little's rate production has been pretty steady. Much of his improvement in the traditional statistic department can be chalked up to two factors: 1) The development of Mark Scheifele — his size and offensive ability help draw attention away from the Jets' top unit and 2) the overall improvement of the team. It may seem obvious but if a team is playing well, its best players usually see that in their statistics.
Little had a two point effort against the Leafs in early January and has seven goals and 22 points in 22 games against the Leafs in his career. The Jets typically have the puck when he is on the ice. Containing his presence down the middle will be crucial.
Here are tonight's projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Jets...
Toronto Maple Leafs
26 Winnik - 43 Kadri - 18 Panik
21 van Riemsdyk - 42 Bozak - 81 Kessel
47 Komarov - 11 Jokinen - 71 Clarkson
20 Booth - 24 Holland - 19 Lupul
44 Rielly - 46 Polak
51 Gardiner - 55 Holzer
12 Robidas - 8 Granberg
16 Ladd - 18 Little - 26 Wheeler
33 Byfuglien - 55 Scheifele - 12 Stafford
22 Thorburn - 17 Lowry - 67 Frolik
48 Klingberg - 19 Slater - 14 Peluso
39 Enstrom - 57 Myers
5 Stuart - 8 Trouba
63 Chiarot - 2 Pardy