Following Sunday’s victory over the San Jose Sharks, the Columbus Blue Jackets headed north of the border to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Given the pandemic and changes in scheduling, this is the first matchup between the two teams since the Blue Jackets knocked the Leafs out in the bubble in the summer of 2020.
The Leafs enter the game as one of the hotter teams in the league, but missing a few players after a scrum against the Winnipeg Jets. Jason Spezza was given an in-person hearing for kneeing Neal Pionk in the head. In addition, Rasmus Sandin and Mitch Marner were added to injured reserve, the latter following a collision with Jake Muzzin in practice.
The Blue Jackets, on the heels of their victory on Sunday, made no changes to the lineup. They did, however, place Scott Harrington on waivers.
No changes to the #CBJ lineup tonight in Toronto. Elvis Merzlikins in net against the Maple Leafs.— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) December 7, 2021
Here’s what happened.
The Leafs opened the game on the front foot and were rewarded with an early power play as Cole Sillinger was boxed for hooking. William Nylander capitalized after just 13 seconds and put the Leafs ahead 1-0.
Leafs goal (0-1): Nylander from Matthews and Riley, 4:43
Columbus challenged the goal for goaltender interference, arguing Elvis’ stick was hit by Ondrej Kase, but the call on the ice stood.
With 7:30 to go in the period, the Blue Jackets nearly equalized but Justin Danforth was denied by the post.
Just after the first Blue Jackets power play expired, the Leafs gathered the puck and a power move to the net by Michael Bunting led to a feed for Auston Matthews who beat Elvis for a goal in his seventh straight game.
Leafs goal (0-2): Matthews from Bunting and Reilly, 15:08
Bunting ➡️ Matthews— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 8, 2021
What. A. Feed. pic.twitter.com/KgeKDTxn78
Following a commercial break, a bad turnover in the defensive zone by Gabriel Carlsson led to Nick Ritchie scoring his first goal of the season. Second straight goal allowed by Elvis where he had little chance of stopping the puck, let down by his defensemen.
Leafs goal (0-3): Ritchie from Kase, 16:30
Jack Campbell absolutely robbed the Blue Jackets and Bjorkstrand on a power play before Oliver Bjorkstrand was able to cash in on a power play at 11:39 of the second period. Columbus, with their best stretch of the game by far, was finally able to get on the scoreboard.
Columbus goal (1-3): Bjorkstrand from Jenner and Werenski, 11:39
Chip, chip, chip away…— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) December 8, 2021
Late in the period, Oliver Bjorkstrand was boxed for tripping and gave the Leafs their third power play of the night. It took the Leafs just nine seconds to score as John Tavares tipped a shot past Merzlikins in front of the net and restored the three goal advantage for he broke team.
Leafs goal (1-4): Matthews from Reilly, 18:34
Before the announcers could even call the Tavares goal, Auston Matthews gave the Leafs their first four goal advantage. A dreadful neutral zone turnover led to an odd man rush for the Leafs and Matthews beat Merzlikins five hole to all but end this one in the second period.
Leafs goal (1-5): Matthews from Reilly, 18:41
Back to back— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 8, 2021
John Tavares and Auston Matthews score SEVEN seconds apart. pic.twitter.com/B9qCgvcyPP
At the start of the third period, the Blue Jackets made a goaltender change, removing Elvis Merzlikins for Daniil Tarasov. Elvis finished with 25 saves on 30 shots. Oliver Bjorkstrand was able to deflect a Jake Bean shot past Campbell to pull one back just seconds into the third period.
Columbus goal (2-5): Bjorkstrand from Hofmann and Bean, 0:33
Morgan Reilly, on four assists, hit the goal post with 6:44 remaining in the third period.
With just a few minutes remaining, a break led by Alexandre Texier resulted in a feed to Sean Kuraly who was able to direct the saucer pass beyond Campbell with 3:35 to go.
Columbus goal (3-5): Kuraly from Texier and Robinson, 16:25
With just seconds to go in this one, the Blue Jackets pulled back a consolation goal to make the final respectable, if never in doubt. Max Domi capitalized for his fourth of the season.
Columbus goal (4-5): Domi from Voracek and Roslovic, 19:59
Columbus Blue Jackets 4 Toronto Maple Leafs 5
Alexandre Texier had two chances on a shorthanded penalty kill early in the game when this one was still in doubt. He is playing with noticeably more confidence this season, and it is showing in his game. Late in the game, his play was rewarded with a primary assist on a rush that Sean Kuraly finished. Nice way to end a tough game for the youngster.
This team is terrible in its own zone. They cannot make clean passes, they cannot exit the zone cleanly, they cannot clear the crease around the goaltender, and they cannot clear rebounds away. They are an absolute mess every which way you look in the defensive zone. No cohesion, no chemistry, no plan or execution. Several bad turnovers led to a goal and other grade-a chances for the Leafs. This team needs to get those cleaned up - it’s not just rookies making these mistakes.
Speaking of rookies - why is Yegor Chinakhov continually getting scratched so Justin Danforth and Gregory Hofmann can play? Those guys, frankly, do not matter to the long-term future of the franchise. If the team wants to give Chinakhov a night off now and again, fine, but under no circumstances should he be sitting in the press box multiple times in a week so career AHL/European guys can get minutes instead. Chinakhov is a first round pick who needs time on ice and consistent minutes to develop. You get nothing by having Danforth and Hofmann out there for 10:30 a night. Play your future, even if it means he takes some lumps and learns, not a 28 year old career minor leaguer.
Not sure what’s up with Elvis, but it would be really nice if his home play could translate to the road. I think he’s talented and is definitely the future here in net, but it would be nice to see some of the magic he has in Nationwide Arena show up in other barns. Not all the goals can be hung against him tonight though - his defense did him absolutely no favors.
Glad to see Oliver Bjorkstrand break his scoring drought by playing noticeably more aggressive and asserting himself. He’s been missing and invisible lately, and Columbus cannot afford to have their most consistent forward vanish for long. Bjorkstrand had five shots total in the previous six games before this one, but managed . He did take the bad penalty that led to the first of two goals late in the second period, however, but made up for it with two goals scored. He can’t do it all by himself, though.
The Blue Jackets head home for a Thursday night matchup against the Anaheim Ducks. Faceoff is scheduled for 7:00 EDT.