First things first, from myself and everybody at the Hub, I wish you all a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!! I hope it was great for everybody.
Congratulations to Auston Matthews on being named one of the captains at the all-star game as well. Lastly, thanks to all the sad sack Buffalo fans for crying about it so much, that makes it all the sweeter!!
On to the game day read:
The Toronto Maple Leafs hit the road tonight for their first game back after the Christmas break to face the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Blue Jackets are on the second half of a back-to-back, and came away with a 4-3 overtime win over the New York Rangers last night in New York. This means they played extra hockey and traveled to make tonights game…. so they’ll likely outpace the Leafs to start the contest, because of course they will. If the Leafs can weather the storm and shake off their turkey hangovers then they should be able to out skate their opponents.
As for the boys in blue, they’re on the first leg of a back-to-back that takes them from Columbus tonight to Toronto tomorrow to face the New York Islanders. It will be the first game for (future captain?) John Tavares against his old team since joining the Maple Leafs. If you need an excuse to push that much harder on the 2nd leg of a back-to-back you shouldn’t have to look far.
If the Leafs want to win tonight they’re going to have to out skate the Jackets. Columbus is a team that I think a lot of Leafs fans would like to see their own team emulate. While they don’t have the centre depth that Toronto does (few do), they have players with a lot of speed down the wing (Cam Atkinson, Artemi Panarin), others that hit hard (Nick Foligno, Josh Anderson), good defensive forwards (Brandon Dubinsky, Riley Nash), a top notch defensive unit, and an all-star goaltender. They can skate, hit, score, and defend with just about any team in the league, which is why they’re 6th in the league and give the Leafs such a hard time whenever they play them. One more top notch centre and they’d be a nightmare. The Leafs’ depth is going to have to prevail tonight when all is said and done.
On the other side, if the Jackets want to win they’re going to have to contain the Leafs speed and hit them every chance they get. Getting their bigger bodied players to go to the net hard would also be a solid idea, as the Leafs’ blueliners struggle to box out. They saved their best goaltender for this occasion as well. Remember when the Leafs always faced off against the other teams backups? That’s a thing of the past. As teams can’t help but respect the scoring prowess of one of the most dangerous teams in the league we should get used to this trend instead.
Tale of the tape:
Leafs – 52
Columbus – 47
Leaf – 3.78
Columbus – 3.27
Leafs – 2.78
Columbus – 3.00
Leafs – 23.8%
Columbus – 13.7%
Leafs – 79.6%
Columbus – 79.8%
No word on lines today or a starter but it’s expected that Frederik Andersen starts tonight, which means Garret Sparks will be tasked with helping to get (future captain?) John Tavares a win tomorrow against his former team. Here are the lines from yesterdays practice, where Igor Ozhiganov is back in the lineup, alongside Travis Dermott, and Trevor Moore gets set to continue his NHL audition alongside Par Lindholm and Frederik Gauthier on the 4th line. No lineup changes are expected:
#Leafs lines at post-Christmas practice:
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) December 27, 2018
It appears as if Garret Sparks will play tonight. This goes against the trend head coach Mike Babcock has set of Frederik Andersen getting all of the 1st legs of back-to-backs. I can only imagine that this has everything to do with his wanting a win tomorrow night against the Islanders for the sake of (future captain?) John Tavares. This just goes to show how much respect Babcock has for (future captain?) John Tavares, because we all know how stubborn he is.
The #leafs held an optional morning skate in Columbus today and it appeared as though Garret Sparks will get the start. Frederik Andersen stayed out for extra work.
Sergei Bobrovsky goes for #CBJ
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 28, 2018