Nobody knew quite what to expect when the Winnipeg Jets and the Toronto Maple Leafs met for the first time this season. It was the first time that the number one and two over draft picks Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine faced each other on NHL ice.
If you recall, it was only seven days into the young 2016-17 NHL season. It was only Toronto’s third game, and Winnipeg’s fourth.
It took place only seven days after Auston Matthews’ stunning four-goal debut game and as a result the NHL had fallen head over heals for Matthews. Laine had yet to impress in the rookie scoring race.
But it was Laine who stole the show that night, back on Oct. 19 in Winnipeg. While Matthews was left off the scoreboard, Laine tallied three goals including the overtime winner.
Though the NHL is rife with rookie talent this year, Matthews and Laine stand out as among the league’s most elite goal scorers. They stood out when they were drafted consecutively first and second overall and they continue to stand out today.
THat WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW: THE JETS & LAINE
The Winnipeg Jets weren’t exactly in hot shape when they faced the Leafs back in October. They had gone 1-2-0 in their first three games with a 3.75 goals against average. Nor was much really expected of the team this season.
One could comfortably say that the Jets are in a transitional stage at the moment. Not quite in full rebuild mode but not ready to compete for the cup either. Sitting fifth in the Central Division with 61 points, it’s unlikely they’ll even grab a playoff spot.
Though they are only four points from a wild card position, they lack the games in hand that many of their Central Division competitors hold.
Still, Patrik Laine shines on.
In four fewer games than Matthews, the Finnish rookie has tallied three more points and a better plus/minus rating than the young American.
Though he shoots far less than Matthews, Laine has managed to find the back of the net just as much and with far fewer shots on goal.
He has played remarkably consistent but let us not forget the explosiveness of Laine’s game. He has amassed an incredible three hat tricks this year, making him the first Jets’ rookie to do so since Teemu Selanne managed five in his rookie season.
THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW: THE LEAFS & MATTHEWS
As with the Jets, very little was expected of the Toronto Maple Leafs entering the 2016-17 season. They were 1-0-1 when they met the Jets back in October and destined for mediocrity. But then some strange happened. The Atlantic Division began to cave in on itself.
Though the Leafs are in the middle of a major rebuild, they find themselves competing for a playoff spot in the mess that is the Atlantic Division. Seven teams are within 10 points of first place and the Leafs are within only five.
While it remains unlikely that they will leave the Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens (or even the Florida Panthers for that matter) in their dust, the Toronto Maple Leafs may very well make the playoffs.
It is well within reason to believe that that the Toronto Maple Leafs will make the playoffs for the first time four years.
And that’s in large part due to the outstanding play of Auston Matthews.
Matthews wasted no time showing the league what he was made of with his four goal debut. Only seven players in NHL history had managed a hat trick in their first game while Matthews went ahead and did one better.
With over 200 shots on goal this season it should come as no surprise that he has already eclipsed the 20 goal plateau. Matthews has 28 goals and 49 points on the season which makes him first among Leafs players in both categories.
Matthews is a big part of the reason why Toronto is even competing for a playoff spot this year.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The game takes place tonight, in Toronto, at 7:30 p.m. EST.
Winnipeg is 14-15-2 on the road so far this season and sport a 7-6-1 record against Atlantic Division foes. Meanwhile, Toronto is 13-9-4 at home this season have gone 3-5-3 against Central Division competitors this campaign.
Winnipeg won 5-4 in overtime back on Oct. 19 and it would be fair to assume another high scoring affair is in order this time around.
Aside from Matthews and Laine, plenty of young-talent will be on display as well. Toronto’s William Nylander, Connor Brown and Nikita Zaisev will suit up along with Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey. Expect a fast-paced, high-scoring, two-way game with lots of shots on goal.
It remains unclear whether or not Toronto’s Mitch Marner will suit up. He is dealing with an undisclosed injury which has kept him out of two-contests so far.
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