The Maple Leafs are looking to shake off the bye-week rust as they kick off a weekend home-and-home against the basement-dwelling Blue Jackets (7:00 p.m. EST, TSN4).

If the Leafs have any designs on making the divisional race remotely interesting or at least putting themselves in a much more secure position in regards to home-ice advantage in round one, the schedule for the rest of February is the time to make hay while the schedule is soft.

The next few weeks include meetings apiece against the Blue Jackets and Blackhawks and just one matchup against a playoff opponent in the next seven games — and that one meeting vs. playoff opposition comes against a Minnesota team that is currently 17th in the NHL in points percentage and barely hanging onto a spot in the Western Conference wildcard race.

The absence of Auston Matthews for the time being should give the Leafs plenty of reason to dig in collectively, and there is also the matter of proving they aren’t taking these kinds of games too lightly. Collecting just one out of eight points on offer in four games against the Coyotes and Canadiens this season, in addition to recent regulation losses to Ottawa and Detroit, are costly dropped points once added up, especially in a divisional race with so little margin for error.

This next stretch is also a good time to experiment at the bottom of the lineup at forward, which is what the Leafs will do tonight with Alex Steeves making his season debut on the fourth line. The former college free agent signing has 39 goals and 84 points in 102 games with the Marlies over the past two seasons, but this season, Steeves — as well as Adam Gaudette, who is still waiting for his first chance — has needed to remain patient as just about every other top producer on the Marlies has been given a cup of coffee in the Leafs lineup.

Tonight, Steeves will play on a line with Pontus Holmberg, who he spent a little bit of time playing with on a line together during a win in Laval in late January.

Head to Head: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs

In the season-to-date statistics, the Leafs hold the advantage over the Blue Jackets in five out of five offensive categories and five out of five defensive categories.

Game Day Quotes

Sheldon Keefe on his expectations for the team in the first game back after the break:

I am expecting energy. I am expecting our guys to be focused and to try to get their game back as quickly as they can. That is really it. In terms of how quickly it will or won’t come together, that remains to be seen.

But it is something we are talking about: You take a break, and you’re recharged and refreshed, but it is not like we changed anything. They know what we expect of them in terms of the structure we want to play with and the energy in their legs.

In terms of puck touches and making plays, maybe that takes some time, but the expectation is that the effort and structure come together quickly.

Keefe on the challenge of shutting down Johnny Gaudreau:

No different than you would any other top-end player. You try to make these guys defend as much as they can, keep the puck away from them, not allow them to have the puck in good spots, and don’t let them get in behind the defense.

Certainly, he is a dangerous player. He is going to get his looks. He is going to have the puck. You have to make sure you have numbers and layers and take away his options as well.

Keefe on the strengths of Columbus defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov’s game:

He and Peeke are both guys who defend hard and close space on you with good gaps and good sticks. They block shots and all of those kinds of things.

It is not unlike what any of our top guys are used to playing against. They play against top defenders all the time. They are going to look to make it hard on you, and they have a singular job in terms of playing against the other team’s best.

Our guys have to play through that or play behind that as much as they can.

Justin Holl on the team’s focus on not letting points slip against inferior opposition:

Every team is an NHL team with NHL players who can hurt you if you don’t play the right way. It is important to be dialed in regardless of who you play. Every NHL team is a good team.

It is definitely a focus. It is something we have had a little bit more trouble with in the past. Nobody is going to take anybody lightly.

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#58 Michael Bunting – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#19 Calle Järnkrok – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #88 William Nylander
#47 Pierre Engvall – #64 David Kämpf – #28 Joey Anderson
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #29 Pontus Holmberg – #46 Alex Steeves

#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#55 Mark Giordano – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #37 Timothy Liljegren

Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#60 Joseph Woll

Extras: Wayne Simmonds, Jordie Benn, Conor Timmins
 Matt Murray, Auston Matthews, Nick Robertson, Jake Muzzin, Victor Mete

Columbus Blue Jackets Projected Lines

#13 Johnny Gaudreau – #38 Boone Jenner – #29 Patrik Laine
#91 Kent Johnson – #34 Cole Sillinger – #86 Kirill Marchenko
#52 Emil Bemstrom – #96 Jack Roslovic – #19 Liam Foudy
#50 Eric Robinson – #7 Sean Kuraly – #24 Mathieu Olivier

#4 Vladislav Gavrikov – #2 Andrew Peeke
#75 Tim Berni – #44 Erik Gudbranson
#15 Gavin Bayreuther – #47 Marcus Bjork

Starter: #70 Joonas Korpisalo
#90 Elvis Merzlikins

Injured: Jake Bean, Justin Danforth, Zach Werenski, Jakub Voracek, Gustav Nyquist, Adam Boqvist, Nick Blankenburg