Tonight, the Blue Jackets will face off against a Maple Leafs club that could serve as a good barometer of their progress.
Fresh off a 5-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center in Newark last night, Toronto is in town for its only meeting with the Blue Jackets this season. At 8-3-1 through 12 games, the Maple Leafs lead the Northeast Division and are just one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Joffrey Lupul has moved up to play alongside NHL leading scorer Phil Kessel, and apparently, it’s rubbed off on him. The 28-year-old winger is back and healthy, and that’s good news for the Maple Leafs and head coach Ron Wilson, who have been seeking support scoring behind Kessel. Lupul notched a hat trick last night against the Devils and has 14 total points in his first 12 games.
Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel wants his club to take a similar approach to recent games, and force Toronto’s skilled players to play in their own zone.
“They’ve got three lines that can get up and go, so you have to know who’s out there,” Arniel said. “We’ll make sure (the top four defensemen) are out there as much as possible against their skill.
“If you don’t have your numbers coming back, they’re going to be gone. They’re a confident team right now, and feeling good about how they’re playing. We have to take advantage of them playing last night.”
The blueprint for the Blue Jackets’ two victories this season has been consistent: forecheck hard, pressure the opposition’s top players and capitalize off of mistakes. Columbus caught Anaheim off guard on the second night of a back-to-back, and will look to do the same to the Maple Leafs.
“We really attacked all players, it wasn’t just certain players,” Arniel said. “We really got after it and finished our checks. We competed hard and won battles of face-offs, won battles in front of our net. It really ticked Anaheim off, and (the Ducks) reacted from it.
“I was real proud of the way the guys decided that they had enough. We need to play with that sandpaper all the time.
BACK IN THE LINEUP
Defenseman Marc Methot is back in the Blue Jackets lineup tonight after missing five games with a thumb injury. Methot returned to practice on Tuesday and was deemed fit to play after gripping the stick without pain.
It’s a big lift for the Columbus blue line that has been hit hard with injuries. Radek Martinek is out with a concussion, and until tonight, the Blue Jackets second defense pair has been on the shelf. Arniel wants to use Methot’s mobility against the Maple Leafs’ top two lines.
“With his feet, his experience… going against a Toronto team that has some real quick forwards, he’s big for us,” Arniel said. “He’s a guy that can play against top lines and we need his quickness.
“He knows how to play in this league, and having his experience will certainly help. I think those four (defensemen) are going to play a big role.”
MOORE IN THE TOP FOUR
John Moore’s play the past few games has merited a bump in minutes, Arniel said. An encouraging note is Arniel and assistant coach Brad Berry wanted to match Moore against Teemu Selanne’s line when the Ducks were in town – a clear indication his game has developed over the past year.
With the Leafs speedy group of forwards, Moore will see more of the same workload tonight. He played over 22 minutes against Anaheim, nearly doubling his previous career-high.
“He’s got a great pair of feet, and he and Methot can move very well,” Arniel said. “Johnny’s a guy that has confidence; he had a great training camp for us. (In camp) he was the odd guy out, but we wanted to make sure kept playing.
“Since he’s come up, he’s shown a lot of good signs and helping us on our penalty kill. Being in the top four, that’s a real good sign for John.”