Skidding Maple Leafs host surging Jackets

The Maple Leafs defeated the Blue Jackets in their first meeting of the season on Halloween.

Aaron Doster/Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Peter Horachek knows his promotion to interim Toronto coach won’t immediately solve the Maple Leafs’ current on-ice problems, but like his players, believes it can happen.

Looking to avoid a season-high fourth straight defeat, the Maple Leafs face another serious challenge Friday night when they host the surging Columbus Blue Jackets.

Though Toronto (21-17-3) held a 33-26 shot advantage and didn’t allow an opponent to score on the power play for the first time in six contests Wednesday, it fell for the eighth time in 10 games, 6-2 to Washington in the first game since Tuesday’s firing of coach Randy Carlyle.

"There were some good things," Horachek said.

"We’ve got to eliminate those issues where we’re making things happen to ourselves. But we did a lot of things that we wanted to do and sometimes it’s just going to be harder at first than we want it to be, to get back into the win column."

Though Toronto has been outscored 41-23 in the last 10 contests, managed four goals in the last three and allowed 11 in the last two, faith isn’t lost.


"I think guys are positive here," said star Phil Kessel, who has a team-leading 41 points but is mired in a season-high three-game drought. "We know we have a good team here."

In addition to Kessel’s recent struggles, center Tyler Bozak doesn’t have a point in four games and three of his 30 have come over the last 10.

Jonathan Bernier, who made 20 saves Wednesday, is 1-2-0 with a 3.61 goals-against average since stopping 43 shots in a 4-0 win at Dallas on Dec. 23. Backup James Reimer has a 4.30 GAA during a four-game losing streak.

"We’ve just got to play more consistently," said forward James van Riemsdyk, who had eight points in six games before being shutout against the Capitals. "We’ve shown in spurts what we’re capable of doing, it’s just a matter of finding that consistency."

Kessel and Daniel Winnik, who scored his second of the season Wednesday, each had a goal with two assists and Bernier made 28 saves as Toronto snapped a three-game skid to Columbus with a 4-1 road victory Oct. 31.

The Blue Jackets (18-17-3), however, have won four straight at Toronto, six of seven on the road and are 12-2-1 overall since the start of December.

"This is a fun time right now," defenseman Kevin Connauton told the Blue Jackets’ official website.

Connauton had a goal against his former team, Ryan Johansen scored in a career-high fourth straight contest and Mark Letestu added one after missing 28 games with a groin/abdominal injury to help Columbus to a 4-2 win at Dallas on Tuesday.

"We’re not done," said forward Nick Foligno, who has a goal with seven assists during a five-game point streak. "I am really looking forward to what’s ahead of this team."

Sergei Bobrovsky made 24 saves to rebound from his previous start when he was pulled for allowing every goal during Saturday’s 6-3 loss at Arizona. He’s posted a 1.50 GAA while winning six straight versus Toronto.

Johansen has four goals with five assists during an eight-game point streak, and four with two assists in five games against the Maple Leafs.