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Sparks to face Hellebuyck in Maple Leafs vs. Jets

by Patrick Williams

MAPLE LEAFS (8-11-5) at JETS (11-12-2)


WINNIPEG -- The Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets each will start a goaltender owning one game of NHL experience when they meet at MTS Centre on Wednesday.

The Maple Leafs will start Garret Sparks, who shut out the Edmonton Oilers 3-0 in his NHL debut Monday. Connor Hellebuyck will be in net for the Jets after winning his NHL debut 3-1 against the Minnesota Wild on the road Nov. 27. Each of the American goaltenders is 22 years old.

Sparks went 8-2-1 in 11 games with Toronto of the American Hockey League with a 1.90 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage.

"I just want to settle in again, play my game and go out with the same mindset every game," Sparks said. "I want to give my team a chance to win and just do my job."

The past 48 hours for Sparks have been eventful.

"It has been hectic," Sparks said. "It has been exciting. It has been fun. It's more than I expected, and I'm just trying to enjoy it."

Goaltender James Reimer is nearing a return to the lineup from a lower-body injury, but Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock elected to start Sparks.

"I think winning makes [everybody] feel better," Babcock said. "Any time that you get to play your first [NHL] game, and it goes well, I think it's a positive for the organization, for yourself, for your family, for the work that you put in.

"We all know that one game doesn't make your career, but you've got to start with one and get going from there. So he gets another opportunity. Good for him."

Hellebuyck was 2-7-1 with a 2.41 GAA and a .927 save percentage with Manitoba of the AHL.

"[Hellebuyck] has played a game in the NHL," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "He deserved that game based on [having] a very good training camp, an excellent [2014-15] season, he went down and played very well [with Manitoba]. He's big, calm. The puck went where I think he wants it to go off shots. He has nice rebound control."

Hellebuyck faced 15 shots against Minnesota. Maurice expects a busier night against Toronto.

"We're going to see a little more," Maurice said. "They're going to put more pucks at the net. The style of the game, there is going to be more traffic to the front of the net. But for all of these young goaltenders that come in, you pass the first test, and you get the opportunity to get the second test."

Winnipeg is 3-8-1 since a 4-2 win at Toronto on Nov. 4, and Maurice continues to tinker with his lineup. Defenseman Ben Chiarot will return to the lineup after seven games as a healthy scratch. He will replace Adam Pardy on a pairing with Dustin Byfuglien.

Here are the projected lineups:


James van Riemsdyk - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov

Shawn Matthias - Tyler Bozak - PA Parenteau

Peter Holland - Byron Froese - Brad Boyes

Michael Grabner - Nick Spaling - Daniel Winnik

Jake Gardiner - Dion Phaneuf

Matt Hunwick - Morgan Rielly

Martin Marincin - Roman Polak

Garret Sparks

James Reimer

Injured: Joffrey Lupul (lower body), Stephane Robidas (groin)

Scratched: Richard Clune, Frank Corrado


Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler

Mathieu Perreault - Mark Scheifele - Drew Stafford

Chris Thorburn - Alexander Burmistrov - Nikolaj Ehlers

Adam Lowry - Andrew Copp - Anthony Peluso

Ben Chiarot - Dustin Byfuglien

Toby Enstrom - Tyler Myers

Mark Stuart - Jacob Trouba

Connor Hellebuyck

Michael Hutchinson

Injured: Grant Clitsome (back), Ondrej Pavelec (knee)

Scratched: Joel Armia, Adam Pardy, Paul Postma

Status report: The Maple Leafs assigned goaltender Jonathan Bernier to Toronto of the AHL on a conditioning assignment. Reimer is expected to start Thursday at Minnesota. …With the Maple Leafs on a road trip, Babcock said that he wanted to have Clune available as insurance, but he does not know if and when Clune will play.

Who's hot: Komarov has a three-game goal streak. Phaneuf (four assists) and van Riemsdyk (five assists) each have a three-game point streak. …Wheeler has a four-game point streak (one goal, three assists).

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