WINNIPEG – The Toronto Maple Leafs will provide the Winnipeg Jets and new coach Paul Maurice their latest test when the teams meet Saturday at MTS Centre.
The Jets are 4-1-0 since Maurice replaced Claude Noel on Jan. 12, the only blemish on their record a 1-0 road loss against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday. The loss at San Jose ended the Jets' four-game winning streak, which had tied a season-best.
While defensive struggles plagued the Jets all season with Noel running the Jets, they have tightened up using adjustments that Maurice has made. The Jets have allowed eight goals in Maurice's five-game tenure.
The Jets have taken well to Maurice, but the coaching veteran of 1,089 NHL games explained Saturday after the team's morning skate that he is still learning his team.
"It's a hard question to answer," Maurice replied when asked how well he knows his new roster. "I'm not there yet. It's going to take a while. I probably won't get to truly understand each individual by the end of the year. It takes time."
But Jets center Bryan Little, who had two goals and six assists in his past five games before the loss at San Jose, believes that the Jets' mindset has changed with Maurice.
"He has kind of made it clear that we need to be a defense-first team," Little said. "You look at a lot of the good teams in the League, and they're all tough to play against, and they're all tough to get chances against. They're all good defensive teams, and I think we're finally finding out – or finally buying in – that we need to shut the other team down before we can worry about scoring goals."
Little saw that mindset take hold on the Jets' two-game California trip this week against two elite teams in San Jose and the Anaheim Ducks.
"I thought we did a good job believing that we could win, and we went in there a confident team," Little said. "[Maurice] has given us that confidence that we can win again."
The Jets are not expected to make any lineup changes against Toronto.
For the Maple Leafs, a 7-1 loss against the Dallas Stars brought their season-high six-game winning streak to a halt. Coach Randy Carlyle conducted a practice Friday afternoon at MTS Centre after the team's arrival in Winnipeg. However, with the game at Winnipeg wrapping up a four-game tour through the Western Conference for the Maple Leafs, Carlyle opted for an optional morning skate Saturday in which three players participated.
Carlyle told Toronto reporters Friday that defensemen Mark Fraser and Paul Rangers are possibilities to dress against Winnipeg. Fraser has been a healthy scratch for the Maple Leafs' past eight games, while Ranger has sat out nine straight games.
James Reimer will start for Toronto while Maurice will give Ondrej Pavelec his eighth straight start.
Here are the probable lineups for the Maple Leafs and Jets:
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Nikolai Kulemin - Nazem Kadri - Joffrey Lupul
Mason Raymond - Peter Holland - Troy Bodie
Carter Ashton - Jay McClement - Colton Orr
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Cody Franson - Tim Gleason
Jake Gardiner - Morgan Rielly
Scratched: Mark Fraser, Paul Ranger
Injured: Dave Bolland (ankle), David Clarkson (elbow), Frazer McLaren (shoulder), Trevor Smith (hand)
Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Michael Frolik
Evander Kane - Mark Scheifele - Blake Wheeler
Devin Setoguchi - Olli Jokinen - Dustin Byfuglien
Chris Thorburn - James Wright - Anthony Peluso
Zach Bogosian - Tobias Enstrom
Mark Stuart - Jacob Trouba
Adam Pardy - Keaton Ellerby
Scratched: Eric O'Dell, Paul Postma, Zach Redmond, Eric Tangradi
Injured: Grant Clitsome (back), Matt Halischuk (forearm), Jim Slater (sports hernia)