The Blue and White Blog Game 2: Toronto Looks to Run the C Bus off the Road
Game One sure was a beauty. Sure, letting in the first shot of the season isn’t ideal. I for one wasn’t too nervous. Would I have liked for Cody Ceci to have cleared Tkachuk from away from the front of the net? No question. But 441 games into his career, the book is out on Ceci. Would you get angry at angry at a donkey for being livestock? I would if I was paying that donkey $4.3 mil.
But by the second period we were rocking and rolling. Matthews got on the board not once, but twice to become the franchise’s all-time leader for goals in opening-night games with nine. His two goals helped the Leafs cruise to a 5-3 win (they outshot Ottawa 42 to 26 so as much as you can cruise in a two goal game). Freddy didn’t play great, but he usually starts the season out slow so there’s no need to panic.
The big news of the night was Johnny T being named as the 25th captain in Toronto Maple Leafs history. I think down the road it will eventually be Matthews and Reilly would’ve also been a good pick. But when all is said and done the Tavares decision feels right. Mats Sundin is one of my favourite players of all-time, but it’s pretty cool to see an absolute stud from southern Ontario rock the “C” for his childhood team. Shades of Douglas R. Gilmour.
The game at hand
A lot has been made of who isn’t on Columbus. Without Bobrovsky, Panarin and Duchene, C Bus has largely been written off. But in my opinion, if a goalie can emerge, this team can surprise. With Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, David Savard and Ryan Murray manning the blueline, they’ll feature as formidable foursome as any team in the league. If the Blue Jackets can muster up enough scoring from the likes of Dubois, Atkinson, Bjorkstrad, Anderson, Nyquist and Foligno, I trust their blueline to hold a lead. I’m giving these guys the “pesky” label (“pesky” is one notch below “frisky” (low expectations, some skill, hungry for a playoff spot)).
Players of Interest
A bit of a passing of the torch between the pipes for the Jackets. Here’s a look the franchise’s all-time games played leaders among goalies:
- Sergei Bobrovsky 374
- Marc Denis 266
- Steve Mason 232
- Pascal Leclaire 125
- Fredrik Norrena 100
- Ron Tugnutt 97
- Joonas Korpisalo 90
- Curtis McElhinney 85
- Mathieu Garon 71
- Curtis Sanford 36
Woof. Shootout Marc Denis.
Bobrovsky rocked a .921 save percentage and won two Vezinas (2013 & 2017) over seven seasons with the Blue Jackets. His crease will be a tough one to fill.
Korpisalo is getting first crack at the starter’s job and if the 25 year old can start off strong, it’ll go a long way to ease some of Columbus’ anxiety.
The Matthews-Nylander Connection
Finally it looks like the Leafs are committing to this duo. Matthews has been one of the best even-strength scorers since breaking into the NHL. The fact he’s been this prolific of a goal-scorer with linemates like Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, Patrick Marleau and (all due respect) Johnsson and Kapanen is astounding. Giving him a legitimate playmaker in William Nylander has me fired up for what’s ahead. If these two continue to click, opposing teams will truly have to pick their poison when matching up against Matthews-Nylander or Tavares-Marner.
With Panarin and Bobrovsky out the door, you can argue that this could now be Dubois’s team. 21 years old and already an awesome two-way center, if Dubois can make another scoring jump (27 goals and 61 points last season) then we can start the All-Star buzz conversation. The Blue Jackets are losing the 28 goals and 87 points from Panarin so I’d imagine/hope that Dubois can help to chip in to make up the difference.
I hope for Spezza’s sake that he has a strong game. For all of the commotion that was made for his healthy scratch Wednesday night, the Leafs didn’t really seem to miss him. The fourth line actually got the first goal of the season with Freddy the Goat banging in a loose puck just as everyone predicted. Toronto seems to have a lot of depth up front which is tough for anybody in the Jason Spezza business.
Remember That Leaf?
He only played 15 games for the Leafs so I wouldn’t be shocked if you don’t remember him. I actually remember Harrington as a London Knight or Pittsburgh Penguin before I clue in that he actually played here. Harrington is one of the forgotten pieces in the return from the Phil Kessel trade (the whole trade wasHarrington, Kasperi Kapanen, Nick Spaling, 2016 first round pick (traded for Freddy Andersen) and 2016 third round pick (J.D. Greenway) to Toronto Maple Leafs for Tyler Biggs, Tim Erixon, Phil Kessel and 2016 second round pick (Kasper Bjorkqvist)). The Kessel trade seems like ages ago, but was really the first move to kickstart the rebuild that eventually led to this current core.
Toronto flipped Harrington to Columbus for Kerby Rychel who they would later flip in the Tomas Plekanec trade. Rychel is now in the KHL and Plekanec is retired, while Harrington seems to have an opening-night gig on the left-side of Columbus’ third defensive pairing. So I guess chalk that transaction technically as a loss, but I doubt Dubas sees him as the “one that got away”.
Just as it was with the Senators game, the Leafs need to take care of the teams that they should beat. They are on the road and Columbus should be much better than Ottawa but the point still stands. Just because they lost their two best players doesn’t mean their going to plummet to Rick Nash-era lows. A Columbus win tonight would definitely garner an upgrade from “pesky” (in more games than you’d think) to “frisky” (surprisingly good).
But forget that. Forget that GD canon. Forget Torts and his antics. Forget last year’s playoffs. This is strictly a business trip to Columbus. Let’s go in, blow the doors off these guys and then leave Ohio in the rearview mirror.