Maple Leafs-Blue Jackets Preview
After a hectic early slate, the Toronto Maple Leafs got an extended break before beginning one of their longest road trips of the season.
While much of their city’s attention might be focused elsewhere, the Maple Leafs will try to earn their first victory under Mike Babcock by adding to the also-winless Columbus Blue Jackets’ defensive woes Friday night.
Toronto played its first three games under the former Detroit Red Wings coach in a span of four days and went 0-2-1 for its worst start since a franchise-worst 0-7-1 beginning in 2009-10. After a 4-0 drubbing in his return to Detroit on Oct. 9, Babcock found a silver lining in a 5-4 shootout loss to Ottawa the next day.
The Maple Leafs rallied from a 3-0 deficit to force overtime on Daniel Winnik’s goal with 3:48 left in regulation, which was upheld on a review.
”What I like, we have a tendency when things go bad we seem to feel bad. We seem to be fragile. We don’t just keep playing," Babcock said. "Tonight, we kept playing."
After its five-day break, Toronto will open a four-game trip Friday while the Blue Jays begin the AL Championship Series in Kansas City.
The Leafs will take on a team that’s given up 20 goals while opening with four consecutive regulation losses for the first time. Columbus went winless in its first eight games (0-7-1) in 2011-12.
"I expect us to be really sharp," Toronto forward Joffrey Lupul said. "Even though we haven’t played a game in a while, we’ve been practicing really hard. They’ve been intense. We’ll be ready to go."
Sergei Bobrovsky has yielded 18 goals and has an abysmal 5.05 goals-against average while playing 214 of his club’s 240 minutes. The 2012-13 Vezina Trophy winner matched a career high by allowing six goals in a 7-3 loss to Ottawa on Wednesday and reportedly said that he currently has zero confidence in himself.
Coach Todd Richards, though, is expected to start him again Friday.
"I have a lot of confidence in him, based on his track record and what he’s done," Richards told the team’s official website. "When the team game isn’t good in front of the goalie, the goalie gets exposed. We gave up five chances (against the New York Rangers on Oct. 10) where it was just a player and Bob, and looking at the chances we’re giving up, he’s out there on an island a lot of times by himself."
Bobrovsky is 7-2-0 with a 1.79 GAA in nine career matchups against Toronto and posted a 35-save shutout in his most recent April 8. That’s his lowest GAA versus any Eastern Conference team and only behind his 1.46 against Minnesota.
Bobrovsky might want to keep a close eye on Winnik, who has two goals and five assists in his last four games versus Columbus.
Ryan Johansen, who has a team-best five points for the Jackets, has six goals and three assists in seven career games against Toronto. He has scored more than four goals versus one other team, six against San Jose.
The Maple Leafs are slated to start James Reimer on Friday and Jonathan Bernier on Saturday against Pittsburgh. Reimer is 0-3-0 with a 5.40 GAA in three career starts versus the Blue Jackets and gave up four goals in 23 1/2 minutes during Bobrovsky’s 5-0 victory in April.
Toronto took two of three matchups in 2014-15 against Columbus, winning the first two by a combined 9-3.