Maple Leafs-Jets Preview

The Associated Press

The Winnipeg Jets won't be home much to start the new year, so a victory on New Year's Eve would be a great way to close out 2011.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will see plenty of home ice in January, but they'd also like nothing more than to ring in the new year with two more points.

The Jets go for a Eastern Conference-best 14th home win Saturday night when the Maple Leafs close out a four-game trip with their first visit to Winnipeg since 1996.

Before kicking off an eight-game homestand Feb. 17, the Jets (18-14-5) will play 15 of 21 away from the MTS Centre, beginning with a back-to-back set against Montreal and Toronto (18-14-5) starting Wednesday.

Winnipeg has struggled on the road (5-8-4), but the club played just twice away from home this month. The Jets improved to 8-2-1 at the MTS Centre in December - and tied Boston for the conference's best home mark (13-6-1) - with Thursday's 1-0 overtime win against Los Angeles.

Evander Kane scored the lone goal and has a team-best six this month, while Blake Wheeler leads the Jets with 11 assists and 14 points in December.

Defensively, Winnipeg has killed 33 of 38 penalties in its last 11 home games. Much of that can be credited to goaltenders Ondrej Pavelec and backup Chris Mason.

Pavelec is 5-2-1 with a 1.36 goals-against average at home this month, while Mason improved to 3-0-0 with a 1.50 GAA there during this stretch by turning aside 31 shots Thursday for his 22nd career shutout.

It was Mason's first start since Dec. 17 and just his sixth this season.

"He continues to battle hard, he comes in cold," coach Claude Noel said. "I mean, there can't be a tougher job than what he has. He certainly gives a comfort level to your team.''

The Maple Leafs have felt that way with James Reimer between the pipes, but the second-year netminder is 3-3-3 with a 3.24 GAA since returning from injury (concussion-like symptoms) earlier this month.

With Toronto leading 3-1, Reimer was beaten twice in the third period of Thursday's 4-3 overtime loss to Carolina.

"We set ourselves up to win, but we made a couple mistakes that cost us," said Reimer, who finished with 30 saves after getting pulled in the second period of Tuesday's 5-3 loss at Florida after allowing three goals on eight shots.

Coach Ron Wilson could switch it up with Jonas Gustavsson in net, but it could be hard to keep Reimer out as he's looking forward to playing just 90 minutes from his hometown of Morweena, Manitoba.

Toronto will play its first game in Winnipeg since a 4-3 loss on Feb. 28, 1996. The Jets relocated to Phoenix following that season.

The Maple Leafs, who open 2012 by playing nine of 10 at home, have dropped five of seven on the road. Still, the Jets could have their hands full with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. They rallied Toronto to a 4-3 shootout win Oct. 19 by scoring third-period power-play goals 27 seconds apart.

Kessel, who set up both of Lupul's goals in that contest, has one goal and six assists in a six-game road point streak.

So does Lupul (four goals, two assists), who has 10 goals and 16 points while scoring in all 11 career games against the Jets franchise.

Kane is one goal shy of matching his career high of 19 set last season.