Two of the hottest and best teams in the NHL will get to know each other very well beginning in Toronto on Monday when the Blue Jackets play the Maple Leafs.
The Maple Leafs' 28 points are second in the Eastern Conference to the 29 for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Blue Jackets, winners of three straight and 5-0-2 in the past seven games, lead the Metropolitan Division and are tied for third in the conference with the Buffalo Sabres (26 points).
"It's a fun place to play, especially how good they are and the offseason addition of (John) Tavares and guys like that," defenseman Zach Werenski said. "It's fun the way we're playing, the way they're playing. It should be a high-paced game."
The teams will meet again Friday at Nationwide Arena. The Maple Leafs will first play Wednesday at the Carolina Hurricanes, where the Blue Jackets won 4-1 on Saturday for their seventh win in 10 road games, including three straight.
"That's three in a row on the road where we've given up one goal," Blue Jackets assistant coach Brad Shaw said. "I really like, starting in the Washington game and then to Dallas and then to (Carolina), that we've had a really good checking mindset. I think it's propelled us in games. It's given us a chance.
"I think we've frustrated the home team in those situations. It's allowed us to play with the puck a little more and play a little bit more of the dangerous ice because we've checked so well as a team."
The Maple Leafs have been impressive of a late even without injured superstar Auston Matthews and holdout William Nylander. Toronto is 9-1-0 on the road after beating the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks on its latest trip. It was the first time since 1995-96 that the Maple Leafs swept three on the road against the California teams.
Their 14 wins through 20 games are the second-most in team history to the 1933-34, 1940-41 and 1941-42 teams.
Right wing Josh Anderson grew up a Leafs fans in nearby Burlington, Ontario, and is excited to play there again.
"It's one of those games you always mark on the calendar for sure. I have a ton of family and friends that will be there so I'm basically playing for free there," he joked. "I was pretty hardcore. I was fortunate to go to a Leafs game a couple of times a month because my dad had that advantage with his job that he could get tickets through his work. Maybe every Tuesday night or Saturday night I had a chance to go see the Leafs."
His favorite players in blue and white were Max Domi, Mats Sundin and Darcy Tucker.
Yes, Anderson dreamed of playing for the hometown team.
"It's definitely in the back of your mind when you're growing up to get drafted but then again, they're the enemy now," he said.
Anderson was nearly five years old when Toronto played its last game at Maple Leafs Garden on Feb. 13, 1999, and never saw a game there. His dad, though, has a glass puck filled with water that used to be the ice at the famed venue.
Center Boone Jenner of Dorchester, Ontario, was a Leafs fans pretty much by default because they were always on TV. But living about two hours away he got to a Leafs game once or twice a season, meaning his allegiance wasn't as strong as Anderson's.
Still, "It's always special playing there," he said.
The truth is when he was six, he became enthralled by the Dallas Stars when they won the Stanley Cup in 1999.
"That's when I really started watching hockey," he said.
For the defense
Werenski scored his fourth goal with a nifty snapper vs. the Hurricanes and although his 16:07 of ice time was 3:58 fewer than the previous game vs. the Florida Panthers, he said his game is coming around since a demotion to the third pairing.
"The last few games I've played a lot better, especially tonight I thought I played really good, made some good plays in the D zone," he said after the game. "It's still a work in the progress."
The power play has scored in five of the last six games, clicking at 35.2 percent (6 for 17).
"We're confident," Cam Atkinson said. "We're holding on to pucks, our unit especially, making plays when they're there, not forcing anything and getting pucks to the net and retrieving. Keeping it simple, nothing fancy. Taking what they give us and scoring goals, big goals."
The penalty kill was 3 for 3 vs. the Hurricanes and has been successful 11 of the past 13 times (85 percent).
"When the power play gets out there, they're having fun and when the PK gets out there, they're confident knowing that they're not going to get scored on," Pierre-Luc Dubois said. "That's the recipe."
Nick Foligno did not play against Carolina because of a family matter and his status for Monday is unknown.
"He's an easy guy to put on the ice right now. It's not just scoring. He's a big part of our penalty kill success. Him and (Alexander Wennberg) as a pair are really tough to get through through the neutral zone and have done a great job for us to date." -- Assistant coach Shaw on Cam Atkinson after his hat trick against Carolina gave him 12 goals for the season
Blue Jackets projected lineup
Artemi Panarin -- Pierre-Luc Dubois -- Cam Atkinson
Oliver Bjorkstrand -- Boone Jenner -- Josh Anderson
Brandon Dubinsky -- Alexander Wennberg -- Anthony Duclair
Markus Hannikainen -- Riley Nash -- Lukas Sedlak
Ryan Murray -- Seth Jones
Markus Nutivaara -- David Savard
Zach Werenski -- Scott Harrington
Scratched: Dean Kukan, Gabriel Carlsson, Nick Foligno