Preview: Maple Leafs at Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets went all in last season, not only holding onto a pair of marquee free agents-to-be but making a string of trades to beef up for a postseason run. Columbus KO'd top-seeded Tampa Bay before falling to Boston in the second round of the playoffs and now must pick up the pieces when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs in Friday's season opener.
The Blue Jackets have some huge holes to fill, losing two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky and leading scorer Artemi Panarin to free agency and failing to re-sign in-season trade acquisition Matt Duchene."I think every player, starting with our captain, needs to ask themselves what I need to bring more for us to keep on growing as a hockey club," Columbus coach John Tortorella said. The Maple Leafs have high hopes for the season and opened on a positive note with a 5-3 victory over Ottawa on Wedensday behind two goals from Auston Matthews. Toronto has won three of the past four meetings against the Blue Jackets, scoring at least four goals in each of the victories.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, TSN4 (Toronto), FS Ohio (Columbus)
ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS (1-0-0): Prior to the season opener, John Tavares, in his second year with Toronto after leaving the New York Islanders as a free agent, was named the team captain. "It's not something you can ever take for granted, but at the same time I don't think you want to change who you are," said Tavares, who collected an assist on one of Matthews' goals. "You just want to continue to just try to be better every day." Russian rookie Ilya Mikheyev had a memorable NHL debut by scoring one goal and setting up another.
ABOUT THE BLUE JACKETS (47-31-4, 5TH IN METROPOLITAN): The cupboard is not exactly bare for Columbus, which features 41-goal scorer Cam Atkinson playing on a top line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and rookie Alexandre Texier, who will try to fill Panarin's spot. Gustav Nyquist, a four-time 20-goal scorer, was signed as a free agent and Josh Anderson is coming off a 27-goal season. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski head a solid defensive corps, but the big question is whether Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins can fill Bobrovsky's skates.
1. Atkinson has five goals and 11 points in 17 games versus Toronto.
2. Maple Leafs F Mitch Marner had a goal and five points in three matchups versus the Blue Jackets in 2018-19.
3. Korpisalo was 10-7-3 with a 2.95 goals-against average and .897 save percentage last season.
PREDICTION: Maple Leafs 4, Blue Jackets 3