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Game #1: A new beginning in Columbus

Old friends and new faces join forces to start another season of Blue Jackets hockey

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Columbus Blue Jackets Jason Mowry-USA TODAY Sports

Friday, October 4, 2019 - 7:00 EST
Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
TV: Fox Sports Ohio; Radio: 97.1 FM
Opponent’s Blog: Pension Plan Puppets

Toronto Maple Leaves (1-0-0, 2 points, 1st Atlantic, 1st East)


Columbus Blue Jackets (0-0-0, 0 points, 4th Metro, 8th East)

Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet

The last time we saw the Jackets on the ice for a game that mattered, they were shut out in an elimination game by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Since then, key contributors Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Matt Duchene (a late addition who excelled in the postseason) left as free agents to sign elsewhere. Every team faces roster turnover in the offseason, but rarely does such a collection of talent leave at once.

This brings on many emotions, most of them negative: anger, sadness, disappointment, envy, despair. Why did they leave? Could anything have made them stay? Can this team be as good without them? How do we replace what we lost?

The good news: the core of the team remains intact. Cam Atkinson scored 41 goals last season and looks to continue chasing every offensive franchise record set by Rick Nash. Pierre-Luc Dubois scored 109 points in 164 games before he could legally drink in the US and looks to prove that he can still be the number one center he was drafted to be with the controversial #3 pick of the 2016 draft. Josh Anderson and Oliver BJORKSTRAND are wingers with a nose for the net looking to build on 20+ goal seasons. The back end features two of the most gifted young defensemen in the league in Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, along with the taelnted veteran depth of Ryan Murray, David Savard, and Markus Nutivaara.

More good news: help is on the way. Enter Gustav Nyquist in free agency, and the arrival of rookies Alexandre Texier, Emil Bemstrom, and Jakob Lilja, Vladislav Gavrikov, and Elvis Merzlikins. All are eager to battle for spots in the lineup, which only benefits the team as the cream rises to the crop.

Now for the bad news. With all that hope comes much uncertainty. Nyquist is a known entity, but the rookies are far from sure things. As successful as Cam and PLD have been over the last two seasons, we don’t know if they can sustain that production without the help of an elite playmaker such as Panarin. Bobrovsky was a rock in goal who the team often relied on to carry them to victory. How does the team change their approach after seven years of knowing Bob could bail them out?

We’ve been debating these questions all off-season, and now it’s time for answers. The speculation can stop, as can the hoping and the fearing. We can set aside the games played on paper and focus on the game played on the ice. It’s a new season of Columbus Blue Jackets and I couldn’t be more excited for it.

Player to Watch

Joonas Korpisalo

This team will only be as successful as their goaltending. Neither Korpisalo nor Merzlikins will be a Vezina Trophy-caliber player like Bob - at least, not right away - but any average or better play from the tandem will make things so much easier for the rest of the team. Korpisalo is the veteran and had the better preseason, so he gets the nod tonight for the opener. He faces a stiff test tonight in a Toronto roster that was top five in the league last season in scoring.

Jackets Notes

This is the second consecutive opening game start for Korpisalo, following last year’s OT winner at Detroit ... Thanks to commenter Joe Lemur for pointing out that there are nine countries represented on the 23 man roster: United States, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Latvia, Switzerland, Denmark, and France ... I filled out the projected lineups below based on Thursday’s practice lines. I hope Scott Harrington doesn’t start, but I won’t panic if he does. I expect Dean Kukan and Vladislav Gavrikov to get regular starts as well in that third pair spot next to Markus Nutivaara ... We also don’t know who will start on the fourth line with Riley Nash. The wings will be two of Sonny Milano, Emil Bemstrom, and Jakob Lilja. Smart money says Bemstrom makes it for his power play potential, if nothing else. I went with Milano over Lilja due to his NHL experience, but here I also expect a rotation for the first month or so ... The power play was a big concern last season and there were preseason struggles as well. That being said, there were some new looks in practice this week:

The Other Bench

Toronto started their season on Wednesday night with a comeback victory over the Ottawa Senators ... Free agent veteran forward Jason Spezza was a surprise scratch for that game ... John Tavares was named the 25th captain in Leaves history, ending a three season stretch of the team having no captain ... Auston Matthews will alternate wearing an “A,” and likely cost himself a shot at the captainship due to pending disorderly conduct charges in Arizona ... The story that dominated the offseason was the contract battle with Mitch Marner. He signed a six year deal on the first day of training camp.

Season Series

10/04/2019 TOR @ CBJ
10/21/2019 CBJ @ TOR
03/21/2020 CBJ @ TOR

2018-19 Stats

Toronto Columbus
3.49 (4) GPG 3.12 (12)
3.04 (20) GAPG 2.82 (11)
21.8% (8) PP% 15.4% (28)
79.9% (16) PK% 85.0% (1)
51.73% (8) 5v5 Corsi % 50.19% (12)
50.03% (14) 5v5 Fenwick % 51.05% (11)
9.5 (3) 5v5 Shot % 8.8 (6)
.924 (7) 5v5 Save % .916 (22)
John Tavares, 47 G Leader Cam Atkinson, 41
Mitchell Marner, 68 A Leader Artemi Panarin, 59*, Seth Jones 37
Mitchell Marner, 94 P Leader Artemi Panarin, 87*, Cam Atkinson 69
Zach Hyman, 65 PIM Leader Pierre-Luc Dubois, 64
23-12-6 Home / Road 22-17-2

Projected Lineups

Columbus Blue Jackets
Alexandre Texier Pierre-Luc Dubois Cam Atkinson
Gustav Nyquist Alexander Wennberg Oliver BJORKSTRAND
Nick Foligno Boone Jenner Josh Anderson
Sonny Milano Riley Nash Emil Bemstrom
Ryan Murray Seth Jones
Zach Werenski David Savard
Scott Harrington Markus Nutivaara
Joonas Korpisalo
Elvis Merzlikins
Toronto Maple Leaves
Kasperi Kapanen John Tavares Mitchell Marner
Andreas Johnsson Auston Matthews William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev Alexander Kerfoot Trevor Moore
Dmytro Timashov Frederik Gauthier Nicholas Shore
Morgan Rielly Cody Ceci
Jake Muzzin Tyson Barrie
Rasmus Sandin Martin Marincin
Frederik Andersen
Michael Hutchinson