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Five Takeaways - Leafs at Blue Jackets - 02/15/17

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets Wednesday at Nationwide Arena:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

1. Jackets stake out early lead, add to it midway through first. The Leafs were in Columbus playing the second night of back-to-back games, and although they beat the Islanders 7-1 Tuesday, things did not go their way early on in Wednesday's tilt. The Blue Jackets opened the scoring on a debatable play that saw winger Josh Anderson score his 11th of the year when he made contact with Toronto goalie Curtis McElhinney as he pushed the puck into the net. 

Regardless of whether or not you believed Anderson didn't push McElhinney into the net along with the puck, the important thing is the officials did not, and Columbus established an early lead at the 4:30 mark of the first. They then added to it at the 11:15 point of the frame when Boone Jenner scored his 11th of the season, and the Buds trailed by two goals after 20 minutes of action. The Leafs did generate some chances on offence, firing 15 shots on Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo, but Columbus got 18 shots on a Toronto team that simply was too loose in their own zone.

2. Columbus continues putting up goals in middle frame thanks to Bjorkstrand, Foligno. The Jackets have been one of the NHL's more surprising teams this year, getting production from virtually all members of the roster and riding a solid mix of youngsters and veterans to challenge for top spot in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan division. And in the second period Wednesday, their depth was underscored when 21-year-old winger Oliver Bjorkstrand netted his first goal of the year (and his fifth career marker in his 18th regular-season game) just 92 seconds into the frame.

That goal was followed up by Jackets captain Nick Foligno scoring his 20th of the year on the power play at 9:56 of the second, and halfway through the game, the Leafs trailed 4-0. Columbus also outshot Toronto 12-7 in the period and were in firm control possession-wise. McElhinney didn't have his best outing as a Leaf, but the same could be said for his teammates.

 

Video: TOR@CBJ: Kadri spins and slides home bouncing puck 

3. Kadri gets Leafs' first goal late in second, Leivo posts assist to continue hot streak. Leafs centre Nazem Kadri ended a nine-game goalless streak and added an assist in Tuesday's win over the Islanders, and the 26-year-old also set a new career high in goals by netting his 21st of the year. And he got Toronto on the scoreboard against the Jackets with 2:32 left in the second period to cut Columbus' lead to three goals entering the third.

Winger Josh Leivo registered the secondary assist on Kadri's goal, giving him three helpers and four points in his past two games. The Buds still weren't anywhere near good enough in the second to merit winning the game, but seeing Leivo build confidence and Kadri continue to contribute at both ends of the ice are positives for the team as they move deep into the final third of the regular season.

 

Video: TOR@CBJ: Kadri nets redirect for second of the game

4. Kadri and Leivo connect again in third period to cut Jackets' lead to two. Toronto had a significant deficit to get out from under in the final 20 minutes of regulation time, but they got closer at 6:19 of the third when Leivo set up Kadri for his second of the game. 

The point was Leivo's 16th in 34 career NHL games, and the 23-year-old is making a strong case to remain in the lineup and receive more ice time from head coach Mike Babcock. But Toronto needed more offence in the 13 minutes that remained in Wednesday's game to salvage at least a point and send it to overtime - and despite a late power play and an extra attacker with McElhinney pulled, they couldn't get any.

5. After splitting back-to-back games, Leafs get two days off before another back-to-back series in Ottawa and Carolina. Their schedule gives them a couple of days off after Wednesday's loss, but the Leafs will soon be right back in a challenging - and familiar - place: taking on an opponent (in this case, their Atlantic Division rivals from Ottawa) at the Air Canada Centre Saturday night, then on the road the next day to visit an opponent (in this case, the Carolina Hurricanes). 

With Toronto still pushing to secure a playoff berth, every game matters, and although it isn't ideal to be hopping on a plane in short order after what promises to be an emotional contest and playing 24 hours later, the Leafs aren't alone in having to deal with the challenges of the compressed NHL schedule. They've got to keep at it, and be as consistent as possible, if they're to maintain pace with the rest of the playoff contenders.

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