Coach Mike Babcock (pointing on the Maple Leafs bench) says his club is 'playing with better structure.'
Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mike Babcock deflected attention from himself after his first victory as Toronto’s coach, preferring to focus on how his players are improving.
Leo Komarov scored two late goals and the Maple Leafs beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-3 on Friday night to improve to 1-2-1 under Babcock.
"All in all, we had a good night," Babcock said. "I thought we scored some good goals. Full marks to the guys for the win. I think it’s a positive for them and they got points two nights in a row, which is a long way from where we started. We just need to keep getting better."
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Joffrey Lupul had a goal and an assist, and Jake Gardiner, James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri also scored. Daniel Winnik added three assists, Morgan Rielly had two and James Reimer finished with 24 saves for the Maple Leafs, who played for the first time six days.
"It’s important for the guys to understand they’re working harder, " Babcock said. "They are playing with better structure, and they are competing harder. If you keep doing those things, you will be rewarded over time."
Scott Hartnell had a goal and an assist to reach 600 career points, and Boone Jenner and Nick Foligno also scored for Columbus. The Blue Jackets are 0-5-0, extending the worst start in franchise history.
They can’t rid themselves of the turnover bug, and Sergei Bobrovsky continues to struggle. He made 28 saves on 33 shots, but allowed two tough ones in the third period with the game in the balance. The Blue Jackets have allowed a league-worst 26 goals.
"We’re not doing things consistent enough," Columbus captain Foligno said. "Usually you make your own luck by doing it right all the time, and right now we’re doing things to shoot ourselves in the foot."
After Columbus rallied from two down to tie it at 3 early in the third period, Lupul scored with a shot from the slot at the 4-minute mark to put Toronto ahead.
"I had good position on whoever the player was that was on me," Lupul said. "I really didn’t have anything to shot at and I waited. Bobrovsky kind of started to get up and I was able to shot five hole. Probably a play that he’d like to have back."
Komarov beat Bobrovsky between his legs with 4:45 left with the Blue Jackets in the middle of an ill-timed line change, and added an empty-netter.
"We stuck with it," Lupul said. "We thought we were the better team throughout the majority of the game so we were confident and stuck with it."
Mostly out of sync the first two periods, a little luck helped revive Columbus.
Late in the second, the puck hit Hartnell up high near the goal and caromed off the end boards to Foligno at the post for a jam shot with 1:58 left. Then, 59 seconds into the third, Hartnell scored on the power play.
Jenner started the scoring at 3:47 of the first period, redirecting the puck between Reimer’s pads.
Gardiner tied it 29 seconds into the second period with a point shot. Winnik fed him from down low after a strong puck-battle win in a scrum.
"It was a heck of a shot by Jake," Winnik said.
James van Riemsdyk and Nazim Kadri scored 1:18 apart later in the second to make it 3-1.
"We are a group that can score by committee," Winnik said. "I think the way Mike’s system is, that if you keep doing the right things, if we go to the net a lot, that’s where goals are in this league. You see a lot of our goals came from that."
Van Riemsdyk scored at 7:34 on what appeared to by an innocent play moving into the Blue Jackets’ zone. But he used the traffic around him as a screen to get the puck past a surprised Bobrovsky. A costly blunder by defenseman Jack Johnson, sending the puck toward his own net, handed Kadri an easy score at 8:52.
In the end, it was a special victory enjoyed by Babcock.
"I like winning as much as the next guy," he said. "Maybe more than the next guy actually. You kind of get used to it. There have been lots of positive things that have happened since I have arrived here."
NOTES: RW David Clarkson, acquired late last season from Toronto along with his hefty contract in exchange RW Nathan Horton, made his season debut for Columbus. Clarkson, who fought Dion Phaneuf late in the second period, missed the first four games with back and groin issues. …The Maple Leafs visit Pittsburgh on Saturday and will face Phil Kessel for the first time since trading him in July. … Reimer won for first time in four tries against Columbus.