Maple Leafs-Blue Jackets Preview
Maintaining a physical approach on the ice might be what the Columbus Blue Jackets need to overcome their terrible start.
Trying for a third straight home victory, the Blue Jackets hope their newfound aggressive style of play will be enough to slow down the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night at Nationwide Arena.
Unable to succeed with a finesse game, Columbus (2-9-1) used the body more and produced four fights while frustrating Anaheim in a 3-1 victory Sunday. The physical effort was similar to the Blue Jackets' first victory of the season, 4-1 over Detroit on Oct. 25.
Opponents are 0 for 8 on the power play against Columbus over the last two games.
"When we play with a little bit of any edge, when we play like we're pissed off, when we play in the hard areas and go there first ... that's usually when better things happen for us,'' coach Scott Arniel said.
The Blue Jackets hope that same approach will pay off against Toronto (8-3-1), second in the Eastern Conference and coming off a 5-3 win at New Jersey on Wednesday.
"We've got to come up with an identity and I don't think our identity is a skilled team that's going to win with finesse and talent,'' said Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash, who scored his fourth goal of the season against the Ducks.
Columbus' biggest test could be trying to put a body on Toronto forward Phil Kessel, who padded his NHL points lead with two assists against the Devils. Kessel has 10 goals and 10 assists this season, and two goals with one assist in four career contests against the Blue Jackets.
Toronto is 5-1-2 with a tie all-time versus Columbus, but the lone loss in regulation came in the most recent meeting - a 3-2 home defeat Dec. 30. The Maple Leafs are 2-0-1 at Nationwide Arena.
Joffrey Lupul recorded his first hat trick since Dec. 12, 2007, on Wednesday to help the Maple Leafs move to 1-1 on a three-game trip.
"We have a lot of speed coming down the ice right now,'' said Lupul, who has eight goals this season after posting 14 for Anaheim and Toronto in 2010-11. "When we're skating like that, we're tough to handle. We might not be the most physical team around, but when we skate like this, we're tough to stop.''
It remains uncertain if Toronto's James Reimer will be back in net after missing the last five games because of whiplash. Reimer, 4-0-1 with a 2.58 goals-against average, has never faced the Blue Jackets.
"We'll see how he responds and feels," coach Ron Wilson told the Maple Leafs' official website.
If Reimer is unable to go, backup Jonas Gustavsson would be in line for his sixth consecutive start after making 19 saves Wednesday. Gustavsson stopped 29 shots in Toronto's loss to Columbus last season.
Whomever is in net Thursday will get a good look at Blue Jackets rookie forward Ryan Johansen, who is expected to remain with the club and play his 10th game of the season to trigger his entry-level contract that allows him to become a restricted free agent after 2013-14.
"I've been clawing away at every opportunity I get,'' said Johansen, who has two goals and two assists in his first nine games.
Columbus won three straight at home only once last season, from Oct. 25-Nov. 2, 2010.