At this point I'm 2-0 on game previews, so let's hope that's a good omen. With the Jackets getting a few days of rest after a must-win victory against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, they've had a chance to prepare for the arrival of league leading scorer Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who arrive with a bit of jet lag after playing in Jersey last night and powering past the Devils 5-3 on the strength of a Joffrey Lupul hat trick.
The Leafs have been described as "outscoring their problems", and last night was certainly a case of that. The real question is, if starting netminder James Reimer is OK to return, though I have doubts from this quote, how will that impact the Leafs defensively, and depending on Reimer's conditioning (He's too gassed to back up Jonas Gustavsson after a morning skate but he's OK to start? Really?), can the Jackets take advantage of a rehabbing goaltender and a defense with tired legs?
If Reimer is ruled out to start, expect to see Jonas Gustavsson in net, possibly with Ben Scrivens backing up should Reimer be unable to play entirely. He's faced the Jackets once, a loss with a 3.08 GAA and .906 save percentage, and is 4-3 on the year with a 3.61 GAA and .886 SV. Reimer has never faced Columbus but is 4-0-1 this season as a starter with a 2.58 GAA and .921 SV.
Marc Methot is expected to return to the lineup tonight, and based on the performance of John Moore vs. Anaheim I would guess that Aaron Johnson will be the odd man out, while I'd expect the team to stick with the lines that worked so well on Sunday.
Columbus Blue Jackets
('11-'12: 2-9-1, 5 Points; 5th division, 15th conference)
Toronto Maple Leafs
('11-'12: 8-3-1, 17 Points; 1st Division, 2nd Conference)
|Joffrey Lupul||Tim Connolly||Phil Kessel|
|Matthew Lombardi||Tyler Bozak||Joey Crabb|
|Philippe Dupuis||David Steckel||Mike Brown|
|Carl Gunnarsson||Dion Phaneuf|
|Jake Gardiner||Luke Schenn|
By The Numbers ('11-'12 Season)
TOR - 3.33 G/G (3rd)
CBJ - 2.33 G/G (23rd)
TOR 3.17 GA/G (27th)
CBJ - 3.25 GA/G (28th)
TOR - 17.0% (16th)
CBJ - 10.2% (28th)
TOR - 69.4% (30th)
CBJ - 71.4% (29th)
- Special Teams - While Toronto's power play is incredibly dangerous, particularly with Lupul and Kessel lighting the lamp on a daily basis, their PK is, if anything, worse than Columbus' - an Achilles heel that the Jackets need to exploit tonight.
- Power For Power - The Leafs' top line is impressive, yes, but that scoring attack is masking a lot of problems on their defense. Rick Nash always seems to have a good game when facing his hometown club - now would be a good time for him to put a few pucks in the net. If the Jackets can put goals up while frustrating #81 and #19, it should lead to success.
- Similarities - Despite their hot start, the Leafs are a team that is very good at home, but has been weak on the road. They have questions in goaltending. They have questions on D. They have major problems with their PK and the power play is wildly inconsistent. In short....they look an awful lot like us. The Jackets need to forget the record and not let the Leafs intimidate them.
- Faceoff Artists - The Leafs traded for former OSU star David Steckel earlier this season for his ability at the dot, and he's holding true as the 2nd best FO man in the NHL right now. The Jackets must get control of the faceoff dot, and that's where MacKenzie, Vermette, Pahlsson, and Brass all need to step up if they're going to control or create on the ice.