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Preview: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

BLUE JACKETS (4-5-0) vs. MAPLE LEAFS (7-3-0)

The only drastic roster change for Friday's game surrounds the Maple Leafs

If you've not heard by now, David Clarkson is expected to make his Toronto debut after serving a 10-game suspension to start the season. Clarkson was involved in a preseason incident in which he left the Leafs bench to join a fight against the Buffalo Sabres. A native of suburban Toronto, Clarkson signed a huge seven-year contract with the Leafs this summer and was one of the most sought-after free agents. His addition to a Leafs team that's already playing well should be a significant boost. 

For the Blue Jackets, things are status quo after Tuesday's win over the New Jersey Devils. Look for the forward lines and defense pairs to remain the same after back-to-back wins, and yes, Sergei Bobrovsky will get the start in goal for Columbus. Jonathan Bernier, acquired in an offseason trade with Los Angeles, is slated to start for Randy Carlyle's Leafs. 

Friday's big story line is obviously the debut of Clarkson for Toronto, but he is joining a Leafs offense that has already produced at a ridiculous rate in its first 10 games. The Leafs have won seven of their first 10 games and have done so with their usual uptempo style that forces opponents back on their heels, and they are a team that isn't afraid to trade chances because of how dangerous their offense is.

Phil Kessel, who scored a hat trick in Toronto's come-from-behind win over Anaheim earlier this week, leads the way with 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 10 games and Joffrey Lupul is right behind him. Lupul leads the Leafs in goals (six) and he's one of six Leafs to have recorded at least eight points in the opening 10 game stretch.

For any team playing the Leafs, success starts in the defensive zone first; the Blue Jackets will have to defend well before getting their counterattack going and cannot afford to get into a "track meet" style of game with Toronto.

The Blue Jackets and Leafs couldn't be more different in terms of how they play, but that's what often makes for an intriguing and entertaining match-up. These two clubs face each other three times this season but Fridays game is the only one at Nationwide Arena, a place where the Blue Jackets have raised their game of late after opening the season 0-2-0 on home ice. 

In the middle of a four-game home stand, the Blue Jackets said this week that they've re-discovered the urgency in their game and how important points are in the grand scheme of a season. They know very well how a slow start can haunt you in April, after they missed the dance last spring by a tiebreaker to Minnesota.

With six of their next seven games at home, the Blue Jackets have an opportunity to get back into the Metropolitan Division playoff picture by the middle of November.


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