Blue Jackets look to avoid first six-game road losing streak since 2013
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets are among the worst teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Maple Leafs' chances of showing improvement will be much more daunting without James van Riemsdyk for at least six weeks.
After scoring once while losing the last two games, Toronto attempts to overcome the absence of its top scorer Wednesday night against the Blue Jackets.
The Maple Leafs (16-17-7) and Blue Jackets (15-24-4) have three playoff appearances between them over the past 10 seasons, and Columbus owns two of them.
While the Jackets have the fewest points in the NHL, Toronto enters the midway point of 2015-16 eight points back of a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Closing that gap will be a lot tougher without van Riemsdyk, the team leader with 29 points who is out with a non-displaced fracture in his left foot.
The Leafs lost the left wing during Saturday's 7-0 loss at San Jose, two days after falling 2-1 at Los Angeles. That came after a promising 8-2-2 stretch.
"I think our team has gotten better every day and played harder and harder and so I like that," coach Mike Babcock said. "If you take out the last game, obviously we were no good. I like the direction we're going. I don't like the standings, but I like a lot of things about us.
"I know a lot more about the group than I did to start and who's going to be a part of things moving ahead, which is real important."
For now that includes Josh Leivo, who was recalled from the Toronto Marlies of the AHL to replace van Riemsdyk. The left wing had 30 points in 35 games for the Marlies, and he totaled three points in 16 games over the past two seasons with the Leafs.
"He's obviously done a real good job where he's at, now he gets an opportunity with us," Babcock told the team's official website. "We'll try to give him an opportunity and a good opportunity, and find out what we have. I think it's real important to find out what you have in your own group before you go looking elsewhere for help."
Columbus could use any sort of help as it seeks to avoid its first six-game road losing streak since Oct. 15-Nov. 14, 2013.
"We're in it right up to our eyeballs right now, as far as where we are as a team," coach John Tortorella told the team's official website. "We have to stay together and keep trying to get better."
That certainly didn't happen Tuesday when the Blue Jackets' overall skid reached four games with a 5-2 defeat to the New York Islanders. They were outshot 33-20, including 17-5 in the first period.
"It's unacceptable. It makes me sick," Brandon Dubinsky fumed. "The work wasn't there consistently. This is a man's league and we played like boys."
Dubinsky didn't get a point after collecting six over the previous five games. He's got 18 in his last 20 matchups with Toronto, including three in the last two after notching an assist in a 6-3 home loss Oct. 16.
Scott Hartnell has totaled two goals and two assists over his past two meetings with the Maple Leafs, who pulled away with three unanswered tallies in the third period in October.
The left wing has one assist in 15 career visits to Toronto.