Who: Toronto Maple Leafs
Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, OH
Know thine enemy: Struggling anywhere else in the league is quite a bit different than struggling in Leaf Land and the pressure is already starting to show. Sure, the Leafs are coming off a shutout in Buffalo, but the Sabres managed just 10 shots on the night and shouldn’t be used when talking about notable wins.
Phil Kessel is off to a hot start with five goals and 10 points in nine games, but you’d never know it given how he’s talked about in Toronto. His line with Tyler Bozak and James Van Riemsdyk leads the team in scoring and accounts for 13 of the Leafs’ 25 goals.
On the back end, Jonathan Bernier got a much needed shutout, albeit the least-taxing one he’s ever earned. He’s struggled mightily this season and perhaps that was the boost he needs to get himself back to the level he was playing at last year. When they’re on, the Leafs can be a ton to handle, but that’s been a rarity so far this season.
About the Blue Jackets: Things are not pretty in Columbus right now. The team is playing at a decent level, but with the way things are going on the injury front, they may not have a team to ice a month from now.
Sergei Bobrovsky was lost to a broken finger, ditto for James Wisniewski and Artem Anisimov was lost to a concussion. The Blue Jackets are down eight regulars from their everyday lineup and it’s going to be hard to come back from that.
They still have Ryan Johansen and Scott Hartnell, two of the top scorers in the league right now after a hot start. They’ll have to be as sharp as possible for the Jackets to have a chance in this one and backup Curtis McElhinney will need to be strong in relief of Bobrovsky.
The part where I predict things: Though the Blue Jackets will always play that grind-it-out style that allows them to keep games close, it’s just too much to ask of them to overcome such adversity. Even if Nick Foligno returns from a neck stinger tonight, they’re still woefully shorthanded and there’s only so much you can do when literally half your lineup is out due to injury.
The Leafs aren’t playing particularly well right now, but they won’t have to with the Blue Jackets so depleted. Look for the Kessel – Bozak – Van Riemsdyk line to continue its success and for Bernier to continue his rebound efforts as the Leafs walk out of Columbus with two points.
Score: 3-1 Leafs
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