The Maple Leafs returned to action after the Christmas break with a quick road trip down to Columbus for game one of a back to back. The Blue Jackets are also on a back to back, but tonight was game two. Last night the Blue Jackets came back from a 3-2 deficit to beat the New York Rangers 4-3 in overtime.
Garret Sparks got the start tonight, as Mike Babcock wanted to give Frederik Andersen an extra day to rest and practice after the time off, before getting back to action against the New York Islanders. With many people taking time off for the holidays, Nationwide Arena is filled with Leafs fans, and a loud “Go Leafs Go” chant breaks out in the crowd as the puck gets dropped for the start of the game.
Early on the Blue Jackets top line gets a good chance but Sparks makes the save. Two minutes in Josh Anderson gets a penalty for tripping William Nylander and the Leafs get an early power play. Twenty seconds later John Tavares and Nazem Kadri help redirect a Mitch Marner shot for the first goal of the game.
Seth Jones gets an opportunity to go for a skate and bring the puck from behind the Blue Jackets net into the Leafs zone, where he passes it and the puck immediately gets bumped out of the zone. The Jackets bring it back in quick and Nick Foligno puts the puck through Sparks legs to tie the game.
The game goes back and forth, but most of the tie is spent in the Jackets zone. Auston Matthews shows off his stick handling skills, deking around several Columbus players before shooting a puck that gets deflected into the crowd. Really giving the travelling Leafs fans a show.
Kadri goes into the Columbus zone one on one with Zack Werenski but can’t score with his shadow so close. Things start to get a little rough and tumble as [Leafs player] is knocked into the Blue Jackets bench and then Boone Jenner and Igor Ohzighanov collide into the boards.
Josh Anderson gets his revenge on Nylander as he skates into Willie’s stick and goes down, drawing a tripping penalty against the Leafs, sending Columbus to a power play. The Blue Jackets have the worst home ice power play in the NHL, and it shows as they don't get more than one good chance - a one timer from Seth Jones that Garret Sparks saves.
John Tortorella wanted more rough play from his team and Brandon Dubinsky takes it to heart, with a clear boarding play against Jake Gardiner, but it goes uncalled. The Leafs respond by taking the puck down to Sergei Bobrovsky more and more, with an exceptional chance by Kasperi Kapanen late in the period.
Nikita Zaitsev tries to put Foligno into the boards, but misses and falls down himself. Sparks stops the shooter of the loose puck to bail him out. John Tavares takes the puck from a Seth Jones turnover, and plays catch with Mitch Marner before he shoots and gets the puck past Bobrovsky on the far side to score his second goal of the game, and give the Leafs a 2-1 lead.
After the face off the Leafs fourth line tries to make it 3-1 with Par Lindholm and Frederik Gauthier having some close calls before the Jackets dump it out and the lines change. Period one ends with the Leafs leading Columbus 2-1 and out shooting them 13-8.
The second period starts with the puck taking long trips down the ice. Icings, long passes, dumps, and lots of trips out of the rink. Garret Sparks makes a save after the Blue Jackets play pass around in front of him, and he knocks the net off the moorings in the process. He gets a talking to from the referee, but on replay it didn’t look too much like the net was knocked off on purpose.
The second period is rather low key, but Zack Werenski gets the puck around a changing Leafs and the Blue Jackets get a two on one that is only stopped by a well placed goalpost and Sparks taking on the rebound.
While battling behind the Leafs net Anthony Duclair gets called for tripping Igor Ozighanov, sending the Maple Leafs to their second power play of the game. During a play set up Tavares sits himself in front of Bobrovsky and tries to knock a puck into the net between his own legs, but it doesn’t make it into the net. He’s quickly gooned by Boone Jenner for his efforts.
Nick Foligno takes the puck on a turnover and gets all the way to Sparks on a short handed breakaway but doesn’t score, and then ends the play by taking the net off it’s moorings. The power play ends without a goal this time, on an offside by the Blue Jackets.
When the play gets back into the Blue Jackets end, Pierre-Luc Dubois checks Patrick Marleau hard into the boards and Kasperi Kapanen takes exception to this, knocking Dubois to the ground (and on top of Auston Matthews) causing a ruckus in the corner that ends with Kapanen and Scott Harrington in the box for roughing and some four on four hockey, where the two can decided who was the better player the Leafs got in the Phil Kessel trade.
In the Leafs zone, Auston Matthews wins a puck battle on the blue line and skates into the Blue Jackets zone, and passes to Mitch Marner at the net who quickly nets the Leafs third goal of the game.
Cam Atkinson responds to this by going one on one with a Leafs defender off the face off, but ends up shooting wide. As the four on four ends, Sparks calms things down by hanging onto the puck for a whistle.
The crowd is getting more and more into this game as the Leafs and Blue Jackets trade chances and the puck battles increase. As the Columbus fans “Let’s go Jackets” Leafs fans respond with a “Go Leafs Go”. Nazem Kadri quiets the crowd as play ends with a holding penalty called against him. The Blue Jackets get another chance to score with the man advantage.
The Leafs win the post penalty face off and send the puck right to Bobrovsky to kill off almost a quarter of the penalty in getting the puck back down the ice. Connor Brown takes off on a 2 on 3 with Lindholm, and they almost score, but can’t get it into the net. A minute later Brown and Lindholm repeat this effort, but once again they don’t score. This Jackets power play is awful and there is no goal as we return to full strength.
The second period ends with a Kasperi Kapanen breakaway as the seconds tick down, but the shot doesn’t hit the back of the net and we end the period 3-1 Maple Leafs.
The third period begins with the play going back and forth between the two team zones, and our first big moment comes as William Nylander has the puck and tries to get his first of the season, but Scott Harrington deflects it up and out of the rink.
Seth Jones holds the puck for a good play in the Leafs end, but Zack Werenski shoots too high and blows his chance to cut the lead. Down in the Blue Jackets end, Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey do a good job of protecting the blue line and keeping the puck in while the Leafs put shots on net.
#37 tries to wrap around and slap the puck in, but Garret Sparks shuts the door on him. Aside from that first Columbus goal, Sparks has played well tonight for the Leafs, not giving the team much to worry about.
We get to the final quarter of the third period, and Par Lindholm brings the puck to the Blue Jackets goal line with Markus Nutivaara all over him, but Lindholm manages to get the puck behind them both and right to Frederik Gauthier who scores his second goal of the season.
The Leafs don’t back off with their three goal lead, playing hard in the Columbus zone, and even Ron Hainsey gets into things with a point shot that Bobrovsky saves and then uses the opportunity to freeze play and get a break.
With less than two minutes remaining Zack Werenski gets a pass across the Leafs zone to Artemi Panarin who one times it past Sparks for his 100th career goal.
After the face off the Jackets pull the goalie, to get some help to score two more goals with a minute remaining. The play is stopped after a hand pass and the Leafs get the puck off the face off, keeping Bobrovsky in the net for 30 seconds, stealing precious time from Columbus.
The Blue Jackets call for a time out after the Maple Leafs ice the puck, and the play scrambles in front of the net, but Zaitsev blocks a shot, and Sparks makes the save to stop the play. The Leafs get the puck out of their end, and Matthews and Marleau try to set up Tavares for the empty net goal to get the hat trick, but the pass is missed and the horn sounds to give the Maple Leafs a 4-2 victory.
Tomorrow night the Toronto Maple Leafs host the New York Islanders, as John Tavares faces the team that drafted him, developed him, and wasted precious years of his career with line mates like Anders Lee instead of Mitch Marner. Get your Leafs jammies on, it’ll be a slobberknocker.