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PREVIEW: Columbus opens the season vs. Toronto at Nationwide Arena

Blue Jackets ready to start their 2019-20 journey against Maple Leafs

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

BLUE JACKETS (0-0-0) vs. MAPLE LEAFS (1-0-0) 

Friday, 7 p.m., Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports OhioCBJ appFOX Sports app97.1 The Fan

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When Nick Foligno was asked what he likes most about the season opener, he didn't talk about getting back on the ice for competitive hockey or any of the festivities that come along with it. 

Instead, the Blue Jackets captain thought about those young players who are getting their first chance to see the bright lights of an NHL game.  

"Usually every year, you have one kid that is playing his first NHL regular-season game, and I think it's so fun, the energy of just seeing him and how excited and nervous he is to go out there and play," Foligno said. "It kind of brings you back to your first game. I get a real treat out of that." 

No matter how you look at it, the first game is a sign of rebirth, a jumping off point for what is to come. For youngsters such as Emil Bemstrom, Alexandre Texier, Jakob Lilja and Vladislav Gavrikov, it's the first chance to see all the pomp and circumstance that come along with the beginning of a new NHL season. 

There will be plenty to look forward to for the Blue Jackets and their fans on Friday night in Nationwide Arena. There will be the usual pregame blue carpet arrivals, not to mention a party on the Front Street plaza outside Nationwide Arena that will stay open throughout the game. In the arena, the atmosphere should be electric, especially for the annual team introduction and pregame ceremonies.  

But once the game begins, it will come down to which hockey team players better, and for Blue Jackets fans, there has to be a curiosity to see how this edition of the Columbus team will fare. The players above, as well as free agent acquisition Gustav Nyquist and talented goalie Elvis Merzlikins, have been added, but what the CBJ lost is what has prognosticators around the league skeptical of the team's ablity to make a fourth straight playoff berth. 

The talk has undoubtedly put a chip on the team's collective shoulder, but the next step is to go out and prove just how good this Columbus team can be.

Video: We will not be counted out

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"You know what, at the end of the day, we know what we have in this group in this locker room," ninth-year veteran Cam Atkinson said. "At the end of the day, we also need to prove it and prove people wrong and bring it every single day and every single game. We should be coming in with a chip in our shoulder. I think the boys are just ready to get going. We're excited." 

There has to be an element of wanting to see how the season will unfold for the Blue Jackets, especially with some new pieces that are being looked at to fill key spots in the lineup. That curiosity is always there, Foligno said, but the team's ceiling this year is what has him intrigued. 

"I'm always anxious to see how we're going to reach our potential," he said. "I think that's what I'm excited for. The potential in this room is probably greater than any team that I've really been on. Last year I think we knew how good we were. This year we know we can be good, but are we going ot take full advantage of it?" 

Head coach John Tortorella said he's done his best to avoid listening to the noise about the team outside the locker room. He has his own set of questions about the team, the kind that can never be answered until the first puck drops, but he has admitted he likes where his team is going into the campaign. 

But, as he said Wednesday, this is where the rubber meets the road.  

"They're going to be answered now," he said of the questions. "When you start playing the real stuff, that's when you find out not only about our goaltending but everybody. Gus is here, Lilja is here, Bemstrom is here, Tex is starting the year with us. There's a lot of people that you don't really find out about until everything starts going for the real stuff." 

Know the Foe 

Toronto's excellent young core is now signed for the foreseeable future -- well, for at least the next five seasons, as the Mitch Marner deal inked last month has him, Auston Matthews, William Nylander and newly minted captain John Tavares all signed through at least 2023-24.  

That quartet combined for 117 goals and 282 points a season ago, and that's with Nylander missing nearly 30 games as part of a contract dispute. Add in Morgan Rielly, whose 20 goals led all NHL defensemen, and it's easy to see how the Maple Leafs finished fourth in the NHL a season ago with 3.49 goals per game.  

Toronto already has moved to 1-0 on the year, winning its season opener Wednesday vs. Ottawa by a 5-2 score. Matthews scored twice in the game, while the Leafs also got goals from Trevor Moore, Frederik Gauthier and Ilya Mikheyev.  

It's a bit of a new-look team this year, as the Leafs' machinations to get salary cap compliant meant the departures of Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau, Jake Gardiner, Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev. On the forward front, in are such names as Alexander Kerfoot and Jason Spezza as well as Russian import Mikheyev, while the blue line has been rebuilt with the additions of Cody Ceci, Tyson Barrie and 19-year-old Swede Rasmus Sandin.  

In net, the Leafs still have Frederik Andersen, and the 30-year-old is coming off a season in which he went 36-16-7 with the Leafs while posting a 2.77 GAA and .917 save percentage. He started the opener and gave up three goals on 26 shots. Michael Hutchinson enters the season as the backup.  

3 Keys to the Game 

Defense first: The Blue Jackets have spent much of the preseason talking about staying "above the puck" and not allowing odd-man rushes. That concentration on defense will get an early test against a Toronto team that filled the net last year.  

Power-play time: New year, new power play? The Blue Jackets will hope to improve after finishing 28th in the league a season ago with the man advantage. There's no better time to get the power play going than the opener. 

Youth will be served: Wouldn't it be great to see someone like rookie Emil Bemstrom or youngster Alexandre Texier to get on the board early? Bemstrom in particular bears watching thanks to his rocket of a shot on the power play.

Of Note 

Columbus has won two season openers in a row and is 8-8-2 all-time in lid-lifters. … Cam Atkinson has scored in five straight season openers, one away from an NHL record. … Toronto has visited Nationwide Arena just 13 times, tied with Montreal and Winnipeg for the least of any NHL team other than Vegas. Columbus is 6-7-0 vs. Toronto at home. … Boone Jenner is one point away from 200 in his NHL and CBJ careers. … Toronto led the NHL last season in fewest penalty minutes per game at 6.1, while Columbus was just behind at 6.2. 

Projected Lineup 

(Subject to change) 

Alexandre Texier - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson 

Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson 

Gustav Nyquist - Alexander Wennberg - Oliver Bjorkstrand 

Jakob Lilja - Riley Nash - Emil Bemstrom 

Ryan Murray - Seth Jones 

Zach Werenski - David Savard 

Scott Harrington - Markus Nutivaara 

Joonas Korpisalo (confirmed starter) 

Elvis Merzlikins 

Scratches: Sonny Milano, Dean Kukan, Vladislav Gavrikov 

Roster Report: Head coach John Tortorella confimed the scratches and said Korpisalo will get the nod in net in the opener for the second year in a row after a strong camp.  

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