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PREVIEW: Blue Jackets vs. Leafs

Jackets look for revenge over Leafs in battle of two top Eastern Conference teams

by Craig Merz @bluejacketsnhl /

Small talk has resulted in big results.

The Blue Jackets special teams hit "rock bottom" - as coach John Tortorella put it - in a 4-1 loss at Los Angeles on Nov. 3 when the Kings scored a power-play goal and later two shorthanded scores on the same Columbus power play.

The following midday, prior to playing the Anaheim Ducks that night, Tortorella gathered his assistants to discuss the video session for the team to dissect the LA game. Sometime during that discussion Tortorella spawned the idea of holding small-group talks with each of the special units.

"I was searching for what was going on with our special teams," he said. "Myself and the position coaches talked for about an hour prior to that. We talked on different things about how we might change things and while we were having that conversation I said, 'Let's go this way.'"

Tortorella credits those small-group talks with turning the season around. The Blue Jackets lost in overtime vs. the Ducks but that started a 5-0-2 streak that ended in Toronto on Monday with a 4-2 loss.

"It was just some honesty that came out," captain Nick Foligno said.

Defenseman David Savard said breaking into groups was more effective.

"It's easier to get a point through," he said. "When it's a full team meeting some guys are not involved in PK, some guys are. It was more about players talking about what we could do better, change, make some adjustments. It wasn't nothing big but it's easier to talk about it in smaller groups and doing it right there instead of having the full team."

He said there were frank exchanges between the players and coaches.

"That was the point of doing that. It was easier for the younger guys to talk and say things if all the other guys aren't in there," he said. "It went back and forth a little bit and everyone got out of it what we wanted. Obviously, we've been better ever since."

The Blue Jackets' power play didn't immediate click - going 0 for 6 against Anaheim - but in the ensuing seven games its converting at 35.3 percent (6 of 17). The penalty kill during the same span is 80 percent (16 of 20).

"It was no secret we were struggling. The power play, you have to be confident out there," right wing Cam Atkinson said. "I don't think our best players were confident and I think we addressed that.

"It was all positive, constructive."

Tortorella was pleased how the players approached the sessions that day. He stepped out of the meetings so the players could talk to the assistants without his presence.

"I liked the serious tone about it," he said. "It was a good cleansing period to me wherein during that trip there we were very inconsistent heading into it. We end up being .500 (1-1-1) but we really weren't playing that well, so that helped."

Turning a leaf

Blue Jackets defenseman Scott Harrington knows from experience the passion hordes of Toronto fans will bring to Columbus on Friday when the Maple Leafs visit Nationwide Arena.

Having grown up between Toronto and Ottawa in Kingston, Ontario, the Senators fan as a kid played 15 games for the Maple Leafs in the 2015-16 season.

"Leafs fans go everywhere. You'll probably see them Friday night, they'll be a ton of Leafs fans," he said. "That's the cool thing about that. Even if you're the home team when the Leafs are in town it might give your fans a kick in the butt too to make some noise. It's good for the game for sure."

Harrington, 25, is one of three Ontario-born players on the Blue Jackets. Josh Anderson (Burlington) grew up an avid Leafs fan. Boone Jenner (Dorchester) was lukewarm to Toronto but liked the Dallas Stars more.

There was no ambiguity for Harrington, who lived about 2 ½ hours from Toronto and 1 ¾ hours from Ottawa.

 "Growing up a Sens fan I hated the Leafs until the day I was traded to them," he said. "Then I was a Leafs fan, I guess, for about a year. It's funny the way it worked out."

Harrington was drafted in the second round of the 2011 NHL Draft (54th overall) by the Pittsburgh Penguins. He played just 10 games for the Penguins before being traded to Toronto on July 1, 2015.

"I really enjoyed it when I played for Toronto," he said. "Their fan base is incredible. Those guys are really lucky. Fans are great here in Columbus but it's different.

"Growing up in Canada, growing up in probably the biggest hockey market in the world is something special. I think I'm very fortunate to be able to experience that for half a year. That's something I won't forget."

The Blue Jackets acquired him for Kerby Rychel on June 25, 2016. Harrington scored his first NHL goal on January 22, 2017, in Ottawa before a bunch of family and friends. In three seasons with the Blue Jackets he has 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 71 games with a plus-6 rating.

Setting the stage

Toronto lost 5-2 at the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday. The Hurricanes had 29 of their 45 shots in the first period. … John Tavares scored for the Maple Leafs and has 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in the past 10 games. … Atkinson has 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in a five-game point streak. His center, Pierre-Luc Dubois, has nine points (four goals, five assists) also in a five-game point streak. … The Maple Leafs are 9-2-0 on the road. The Blue Jackets are 5-4-1 at home.

Blue Jackets projected lineup

Artemi Panarin -- Pierre-Luc Dubois -- Cam Atkinson

Nick Foligno -- 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

Sergei Bobrovsky

Joonas Korpisalo

Scratched: D Dean Kukan, F Oliver Bjorkstrand

Injured: None

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