In their first game since January 31st, the Blue Jackets will host the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at Nationwide, kicking off a home-and-home series against one of the most exciting teams in the league.
The Leafs roll into town to play their first game since February 1st, and if you look at the current state of their roster, you will see that they’re in a similar situation as the Jackets. Currently they have around $23 million dollars sitting on IR, including one of the game’s great goal scorers (Auston Matthews), their starting goaltender (Matt Murray) and a top-four defenseman (Jake Muzzin).
But, unlike the Jackets, the Leafs have kept pace with the league; currently sitting second in the Atlantic Division with a 31-13-8 record (70pts). They’re led up front by one of the league’s premier playmakers in Mitch Marner (19g-41a-60p), but William Nylander sits just one point back and leads the team in goals with 28. Overall, they have a top-heavy attack, but have gotten some secondary scoring throughout their lineup. This is a dangerous team.
The Jackets come in with a three game losing streak that seems like it happened forever ago. Led up front by Johnny Gaudreau (14g-35a-49p), who has an 18 point lead over the next closest player (Patrik Laine). The two are locked into a three-way tie with Boone Jenner to lead the team in goals with 14 each. We’ll have to see if they get any bodies back tonight – Nick Blankenburg and Adam Boqvist both seem close.
Both teams are coming out of the All-Star break, and had their league-mandated 5 days off after that break, so they should be refreshed and ready to play. Expect a sloppy start to this one as it’s the first time these teams have played each other this season – and both sides will need to work to get back into a rhythm.
The Jackets have historically done well against the Leafs, holding a 19-18-1 record in the all-time series. The teams have alternated wins and losses in their last 8 games, dating back to the 2020 playoff bubble – with the Jackets winning the last matchup on March 7th of last season.
Three Keys to Success
- Time and space. The Leafs are a team capable of striking quickly with any opportunity, so taking away open ice is the first step towards slowing their offense.
- Traffic in front. On both sides of the puck, that is. Make it easier for you own goaltender, and more difficult on theirs. This is something the Jackets need to be more consistent with.
- Plant seeds of doubt. Score an early goal, throw a big hit right away … do something to shake them up early, they’re a team missing some key pieces.
Likely Starters (subject to change): Joonas Korpisalo, Ilya Samsonov
Puck drops at 7:00 tonight, and you can get your tickets online. You can tune into the TV broadcast via Bally Sports Ohio or ESPN+; or listen along to 97.1 the Fan.