The Toronto Maple Leafs, playing their first game of a post-Christmas break back-to-back, will look to end the Blue Jackets’ five-game winning streak and make it five wins in a row for themselves tonight in Columbus (7 p.m., Sportsnet Ontario).
The Blue Jackets have been riding a wave recently, winning five of their last six games, shutting out their opposition in two of them, and scoring on 12.4% of their shots over that span.
Their top unit of Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Cam Atkinson warrants significant attention; the line been heavily relied on by John Tortorella this year, with the trio often breaking the 20-minute mark in games as one of seven lines league-wide to have surpassed the 350 minutes together at 5v5 already in 2018-19. In those minutes, they’ve controlled over 55% of unblocked shot attempts and expected goals. At 13.2%, their shooting percentage is first among the 25 lines with more than 200 5v5 minutes together this season.
Babcock seemed to think that Columbus holds the advantage after playing last night, despite having to play the second of a back-to-back, with the Leafs head coach noting the rustiness his team showed in practice yesterday. The challenge likely comes at the start of the game; if the Leafs can avoid a drowsy start to their night against a fully-warmed-up Columbus team, they should be able to outskate them over four lines as the rested side.
On that note, while it depends on how the game plays out, we should see a little more of callup Trevor Moore tonight after he only played a little over five minutes in his NHL debut against Detroit on Dec. 23. With Tyler Ennis out for several weeks, he has been taking reps on the half-wall spot on the second power play unit. Nazem Kadri was double shifted against Detroit and played on both units briefly, which is a less than ideal solution. Considering Moore is going to be sticking around a while, it makes sense to get him some touches on the man advantage as he looks to build confidence and comfort at this level. Also worth noting is that he’s tied for third in AHL power play goals.
On defense, Igor Ozhiganov will return to his usual spot next to Travis Dermott on the team’s bottom pairing after sitting out three games prior to the break due to illness.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on the importance of a fast start coming off the break:
Huge for us for sure. They will have their hands and their brains back. That first ten minutes, when you’re not used to executing at a high pace… We practiced yesterday and it was very evident we had a few days off with our practice. Ideally, you’ve got to survive that first ten and take care of the puck and get on them instead of them on you. Our first ten minutes in here last time, even though we had the puck all the time, they were up 2-0 after 10 minutes. We’ve got to do a good job to start on time.
Babcock on the challenge presented by the Blue Jackets:
They’ve won six of seven. They’ve got a real good hockey club. They’ve got good depth, good goaltending, and they’re going to be hard to play against. In saying all of that, we have a good team, too. There is going to be something to give here today. You’d like to have your best stuff every day, but the more depth you have, the more people who can pick one another up. I think that is what happens with good teams.
Babcock on meeting with William Nylander and showing him the battles he won last game vs. Detroit:
We meet with every player almost every day. Not for a meeting; there is a coffee pot, there is breakfast, and you talk to everybody every day. We think it is important to talk to our athletes. When we think there is something we can help them with, you help them. It’s our job to help them be the best they can possibly be. It is ongoing. It just happened to be Willy yesterday, but it’s someone every day.
Babcock on Ron Hainsey’s role in Morgan Rielly’s development:
I think he has played a ton in it. You have a guy who is talking to you all the time and settling you down and helping you out and telling you where to stand without having a coach nattering in your ear all the time. These guys are around you on the bus, on the plane. They can help you. I think it’s real important — the veteran leadership we’ve been able to acquire to help our young guys. It’s critical in their growth. Ron is a huge part of that.
Babcock on Jake Gardiner’s season so far:
I just looked today, I happened to be scanning through it, and noticed he was 19th in defensive scoring and he’s +17 or something like that, and he’s been on a power play that has been kind of non-existent — the second group. Jake is a good player. He is one of those guys to me that is an elite brain and makes tons of good plays all the time. He is real smart and way better than people think defensively. He is an important player for us.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#12 Patrick Marleau – #34 Auston Matthews – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#28 Connor Brown – #43 Nazem Kadri – #29 William Nylander
#26 Par Lindholm – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #42 Trevor Moore
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#51 Jake Gardiner – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#23 Travis Dermott – #92 Igor Ozhiganov
#40 Garret Sparks
#31 Frederik Andersen
Injured: Zach Hyman (MCL), Tyler Ennis (broken ankle)
Scratched: Martin Marincin, Justin Holl
Columbus Blue Jackets Projected Lines
#9 Artemi Panarin – # 18 Pierre-Luc Dubois– #13 Cam Atkinson
#28 Oliver Bjorkstrand – #38 Boone Jenner – #77 Josh Anderson
#71 Nick Foligno– #10 Alexander Wennberg – #91 Anthony Duclair
#37 Markus Hannikainen – #17 Brandon Dubinsky – #20 Riley Nash
#8 Zach Werenski – #3 Seth Jones
#27 Ryan Murray – #65 Markus Nutivaara
#4 Scott Harrington – #58 David Savard
#70 Joonas Korpisalo
#72 Sergei Bobrovsky