So tomorrow night when Toronto faces the Columbus Blue Jackets they will have some serious redeeming to do, to show their coach and fans that the 7-0 loss was just and aberration.
The key storyline and matchup is that Leafs goaltender, James Reimer will be nack in net after a mysterious groin injury that plagued him off and one for three weeks. The other being Reimer facing Blue Jacket’s Seth Jones.
Toronto is a team shaken badly by the 7-0 rout in the Shark tank on Saturday that was televised nationally. So Jonathan Bernier will sit out, and instead the Leafs will rely heavily on Reimer to provide a strong start in goal and bring some stability to a team that’s looking to save face.
The Blue Jackets will be tired after having played hard today and losing to the Islanders in Brooklyn, 5-2. The Blue Jackets featured defenceman Jones, who was just acquired in a huge trade from Nashville on Jan. 6 in exchange for controversial centre Ryan Johansen.
Jones made his debut for the Jackets’ on Friday night in Carolina. He was the fourth overall pick in 2013, and skillfully he got a shot and two hits, logging 22:31 of ice time against the Hurricanes. So despite their loss tonight, Jones will look to make his mark against a lagging Leafs team.
Also look for Columbus’ all-star Brandon Saad, who was selected to participate in the NHL all-star game in Nashville that takes place on Jan. 31, is tied for the team lead in scoring heading into tonight’s action, with 16 goals and 14 assists.
Streaky Scott Hartnell might also play hard to bounce back from inconsitent play. Toronto usually has a positive effect on his play. Hartnell had 14 points in his last 16 games going into tonight’s loss and had points in seven of his last 11 games.
A familiar face for Toronto will be that of of David Clarkson whose fortunes have not improved much since the Leafs traded him to Columbus last season. But Clarkson due to an upper body injury will not be on the ice. He had missed three games heading into Tuesday’s action and is now out indefinitely. His record is unimpressive at one goal and one assist in 18 games this season.
So with that said, the main focus tonight will be on net, and the Maple Leafs goaltender Reimer, told media he plans on being ready when Lefs coach Mike Babcock calls on him next.
“I feel like I am out of the woods, although it is a sport, so I could go and do something again tomorrow,” Reimer said with a smile after practice at the MasterCard Centre today.
“But I feel pretty good.”
Reimer hasn’t been able to claim a lot of success in 2015-16, due to his injury troubles, but when given the start against the Los Angeles Kings last Wednesday, he played brilliantly making 39 saves in a 2-1 Leafs loss. But it was clear to the coaching stff that his groin injury was finally healed.
The following few days after also helped convince him that he was all good.
“It was a hard game, I really got to push it, and then did not do anything for darn near a week,” Reimer said. “We had Friday off, did not play Saturday (in a 7-0 loss against the San Jose Sharks), and had Sunday off, so almost three days off to make sure everything was good.
“The way the schedule worked out too was perfect. There were no real issues anyway, but it’s good and looks like we are ready to go.”
Babcock is not worried about Reimer’s confidence either. He is top ranked among qualified goalies in the NHL, posting a .937 save percentage.
For the Leafs though confident in net, the status of their all-star winger, Leo Komarov is not as clear. For the second day now, Komarov did not attend practise. Media asked the coach about his status and if there a chance Komarov will play versus Columbus, Babcock said that he expected Komarov to return Wednesday.
“I don’t think there is any chance of that, but there is always a chance I guess,” Babcock said. “He was hurting a bit on the road so we tried to be over-cautious here today. Our plan is for him to skate tomorrow and play.”
With Komarov missing his second straight practice, defenceman Frank Corrado skated in his place alongside Michael Grabner and Nazem Kadri.
One good sign for Toronto was that centre Tyler Bozak and defenceman Martin Marincin, who weren’t at the annual outdoor practice on Monday, were back on the ice today.
Josh Leivo was recalled from the Toronto Marlies due to winger James van Riemsdyk’s injury, and he skated on a line with Byron Froese and Brad Boyes.
A roster spot opened up for Leivo when the Maple Leafs got the news that James van Riemsdyk would be sidelined for at least six to eight weeks due to a non-displaced fracture in his left foot.
“We’ll try to give him an opportunity and a good opportunity,” Babcock said Tuesday. “I think it’s real important to find out what you have in your own group before you go looking elsewhere for help.”
Wednesday night, will mark the halfway point of the Leafs’ first season under coach Babcock. Their current record is 16-17-7.
“I like the direction we are going,” Babcock said. “I don’t like the standings, but I like a lot of things about us. I know a lot more about the group than I did to start and who is going to be a part of things moving ahead, which is really important. We just have to keep getting better.”
Meanwhile Leafs fans who were maybe looking forward to seeing 2014 first-rounder William Nylander, play, will not get the chance since he suffered a head injury during the world junior championship in Finland. He skated after the Toronto Marlies were finished practice for the first time since and won’t be rushed back.
“William is progressing well,” Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe said. “He has been going through the protocol to return to play. He is making good progress, but he won’t be with us on this trip (to Utica for one game and St. John’s for two).”
This shapes up to be a well matched and exciting high scoring game, but since the Blue Jackets will be tired after having played tonight against the Islanders in Brooklyn and losing, look for the advantage to be on Toronto’s side.