The Toronto Maple Leafs, a team that’s always under the microscope with high expectations, are in the midst of an up-and-down 4-4-1 start to the season – but they got a bit of a lift on Tuesday night. After winning only once in their previous four outings, the Leafs got back on track by defeating the Buffalo Sabres 4-0 at Air Canada Centre.
Toronto held the Sabres to only 10 shots in the game, tying a franchise record for the least amount of shots for an opponent. The newly-juggled lines used by the Maple Leafs also produced; the long-standing top line of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk was broken up, with Kessel skating on a line with Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul. Bozak and Van Riemsdyk moved to the second line with David Clarkson.
Bozak had a goal and an assist and van Riemsdyk also found the back of the net. Kessel scored his third goal in three games, while Kadri and Lupul combined for 13 shots – eight of them from Lupul.
The Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets last met on Mar. 3 of last season, a 2-1 win for Columbus. It was the Blue Jackets’ third win in three games against the Leafs and ended a seven-game win streak for the Leafs at Air Canada Centre.
Dalton Prout opened the scoring for Columbus midway through the second period with his first goal of the season on a drive from the right point that beat James Reimer through a screen. Artem Anisimov netted the game-winner three minutes later, taking a Nikita Nikitin feed at the side of the net and burying it past Reimer.
Sergei Bobrovsky made 28 saves, including several key stops at the end of the third period, for his 22nd win of the season.
He skated on a line with Kessel and Nazem Kadri with the hope of helping him generate more offense. Lupul has five 20-goal seasons on his resume despite numerous injuries, but only two goals so far this season. Kadri has also been held to two goals in the first nine games. Not only does history say that Lupul will produce, but so does a closer look at his numbers this season. Lupul ranks second on the Leafs with very high Corsi percentage of 56.8. He also sits at the bottom in PDO (shooting percentage + opposing save percentage on ice), ranking third-worst at 95.2. Translation: Lupul and Kadri have driven play when on the ice together and haven’t been rewarded for it...yet.
Scott Hartnell’s game has hit a new level over the last two weeks. Hartnell scored his first goal as a Blue Jacket on a bizarre ricochet in Anaheim, but he has been more effective as a set-up man in his early days with the Blue Jackets. Hartnell is second on the team in scoring and leads the Jackets with nine assists. He’s racked up seven helpers in five games, four of them coming in a dramatic 5-4 win over San Jose. Ironically, Hartnell was held off the sheet against Ottawa in what may have been one of his best games this season. He will continue to play on left wing of the Blue Jackets' red-hot No. 1 line with Ryan Johansen and Cam Atkinson.
Fedor Tyutin vs. Phil Kessel.
Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson are likely to draw a lot of match-ups against Kessel on Friday night, with Dalton Prout also a candidate to handle some of the burden. Regardless of how Richards forms his match-ups, Toronto’s top-six with van Riemsdyk and Bozak in the mix is loaded with skill, and James Wisniewski’s absence will not help. But the Maple Leafs power play, when Kessel, Bozak, van Riemsdyk, and Cody Franson all hit the ice at once, is when Tyutin will need to be on his toes as the Jackets’ leader in shorthanded ice time. Columbus has surrendered power play goals in four straight games (six over that stretch) and it could be the difference on Friday.