December 1, 2023

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Gameday Preview: Blue Jackets at Maple Leafs

The Details 

The Blue Jackets dropped a 3-0 decision to the Maple Leafs on Friday night in Nationwide Arena, but this is one of the rare chances in the NHL where you can get revenge a night later. It’s a home-and-home, back-to-back, as the teams flew to Canada after the game last night and will meet again in Toronto tonight.  

What They’re Saying 

Maybe it’s fitting that for a team that boasts one of the most college-heavy rosters in the NHL that the Blue Jackets get a second chance at the Maple Leafs this weekend. 

It feels like a college hockey series, a Friday and Saturday night in which the teams will play each other in consecutive games in opposing barns. It’s the rare chance in the NHL where you get to see the same team on back-to-back nights, just one of two chances on the CBJ schedule for that this year and the only time it’s happening on this continent (the other came with two games against Colorado in Finland).  

So while the Blue Jackets were unable to solve the Maple Leafs last night in Columbus, they get another chance to take on a team that fancies itself a Stanley Cup contender tonight. 

“That’s a pretty good hockey team,” CBJ head coach Brad Larsen said after the shutout loss last night. “They have six really good, mobile, good D. They are built in the middle. That’s a good team. They’re where they are for a reason. This group has been growing together for a while, especially that core.” 

Many of the analytical numbers showed a fairly even game last night, including shot attempts at 5-on-5 (52-47 Maple Leafs) and expected goals (2.17-1.94 Toronto) but one in which it was fair that the visitors came away with the win. 

Columbus did get a standout performance from goalie Joonas Korpisalo, who stopped 38 shots, but in the end the team was shut out for the fifth time on the season. 

“We have to find a way to create some more offense and put a few in the back of the net,” captain Boone Jenner said. “They play hard. They track and reload and come back into the zone. They don’t give up much. Whenever you’re playing them, you have to fight for your ice. You can see that tonight. Going into tomorrow, we know that.” 

Know The Foe: Toronto Maple Leafs  

Head coach: Sheldon Keefe (Fourth season)             

Season Stats: Goals per game: 3.36 (9th) | Scoring defense: 2.64 (4th) | PP: 25.0 percent (6th) | PK: 79.8 percent (16th)        

The narrative: In case you haven’t heard, the Maple Leafs haven’t won a playoff series since 2003-04, a stat that dogs hockey’s most talked-about franchise. The current group is extremely talented, having made six consecutive postseason appearances, but has been unable to get past some of the top teams in the league in the opening round in that time frame. Given the overwhelming media pressure in Canada’s biggest city, anything short of winning a postseason round will be viewed as a disappointment, but that’s a conversation for down the road. 

2022-23 leaders: You likely know the names at this point, and Toronto’s big four — a quartet of forwards who take up nearly half of the Maple Leafs’ salary cap — have led the way yet again. Mitchell Marner tops the squad with a 19-43-62 line that puts him tied for seventh in the league in assists and tied for 11th in points, while William Nylander is right behind with 28 goals and 31 assists for 59 points. Auston Matthews won’t hit 60 goals like he did last year but has a 28-25-53 line, and captain John Tavares has 23 goals and 30 assists.   

In net, Ilya Samsonov improved to 18-6-2 with last night’s win. Backup Eric Kallgren has played in 10 games, going 3-2-4 with a 2.67 GAA and .898 save percentage.  

What’s new: The Leafs aren’t quite as banged up as the Blue Jackets – who is – but the team did go into the break second in the league in in-season man games lost. Matthews is currently out with a knee injury while goalie Matt Murray is out with an ankle injury. Jake Muzzin, Nick Robertson, Kyle Clifford and Victor Mete also have been out, and the Leafs enter at 6-4-1 in their last 11 games.  

Trending: With last night’s win, Toronto broke what had been a 10-10-0 tie since the start of the 2014-15 season. The Leafs also have won three of four this season and last.   

Former CBJ: None  

3 Keys to the Game   

Puck management: This was an issue for Larsen during the Jackets’ loss last night. Making smart decisions under pressure isn’t the easiest, but it is always important. 

Handle the road: Toronto is a team that can lay it on in their building (20-5-4 home record), so the Blue Jackets must handle the momentum of the game, especially early.  

Score first: In the same vein, the Blue Jackets have fallen behind 1-0 in six of the last seven games. The team has to play with a lead at some point.  

3 Stats to Know  
  • With Marchenko (13 goals) and Johnson (10) both in double digits, this is the third time in CBJ history that two rookies have at least 10 goals. The previous instances were 2000-01 (Serge Aubin and David Vyborny, each with 13) and 2016-17 (Pierre-Luc Dubois with 20 and Sonny Milano with 14).   
  • With 13 goals and zero assists, Marchenko is just the third NHLer all-time to begin his career with that many goals without a helper and the first since Pittsburgh’s John McKinnon in 1926-27, per NHL Stats.  
  • Milestone watch: Sean Kuraly is three games from 400 for his NHL career (47-64-111, 397 GP).  

Who’s Hot   

Marchenko’s 13 goals are tied for sixth-most ever for a CBJ rookie with Aubin, Vyborny and Nikolai Zherdev. He has four goals in the last six games and is tied for second in the NHL among rookies in tallies with Dallas’ Wyatt Johnston. … Patrik Laine (2-7-9) and Johnny Gaudreau (2-6-8) have points in six of the last eight games. … Gaudreau ranks tied for eighth in the NHL in assists since Nov. 10 with 9-31-40 in 40 contests. … Johnson’s 25 points (10-15-25) are tied for the 10th-most ever for a CBJ rookie with Derick Brassard (2008-09). He ranks sixth in the NHL in goals among rookies and is also fifth in points. … CBJ rookies lead all NHL teams in goals and place second in points with 30-31-61 in 52 games.  

This Day in CBJ History  

Feb. 11, 1998: More than two years before the team would hit the ice, Doug MacLean, who led Florida to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final as the team’s head coach, is named general manager of the Blue Jackets. Shortly after, he would also accept the role as the organization’s president.  

Feb. 11, 2004: Vyborny’s unassisted goal in overtime pushed Columbus to a 3-2 victory over Los Angeles in Nationwide Arena.   

Feb. 11, 2013: The Blue Jackets post a 6-2 victory over San Jose at Nationwide Arena thanks in part to goals eight seconds apart by Vinny Prospal and Mark Letestu in the third period that tied a franchise record for the fastest goals scored. The victory would start a franchise-record 12-game home unbeaten streak in which the Jackets went 9-0-3 in Nationwide Arena.  

Roster Report 

Projected Lineup (subject to change)   

Johnny Gaudreau – Boone Jenner – Patrik Laine
Kirill MarchenkoCole SillingerKent Johnson
Liam FoudyJack RoslovicEmil Bemstrom
Eric Robinson – Sean Kuraly – Mathieu Olivier
Tim BerniErik Gudbranson
Vladislav GavrikovAndrew Peeke   
Nick BlankenburgAdam Boqvist
Elvis Merzlikins
Joonas Korpisalo

Scratches: Lane Pederson, Gavin Bayreuther

Injured reserve: Gustav Nyquist (upper body injury, out indefinitely); Yegor Chinakhov (high ankle sprain, out six weeks as of Dec. 21); Carson Meyer (oblique, out six to eight weeks as of Jan. 11); Jake Bean (shoulder, out four to six months after surgery in November); Jakub Voracek (upper body, out indefinitely); Zach Werenski (shoulder surgery, out for season); Justin Danforth (shoulder surgery, out for season)           

Roster Report: Pederson is expected to join the Blue Jackets in Toronto but Larsen said Friday night he won’t play after being away from action for the past two weeks. Columbus shook up the lines during last night’s game but time will tell if those will stick tonight.