NHL Game Preview - Maple Leafs v Blue Jackets

 
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Jackets aim to rebound vs. Leafs

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Toronto Maple Leafs begin a six-game road trip that will take them through the end of the calendar year Wednesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.

The Maple Leafs had lost three straight on the road before coming home for a brief stop and whipping the Carolina Hurricanes 8-1 on Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre in a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first NHL game.

That game was played in the afternoon, which should help the Maple Leafs make the quick turnaround for the trip to Columbus to play the second game of a back-to-back.

The Blue Jackets return home after a 7-2 shellacking on Monday night in Boston by the Bruins. Columbus has lost two in a row and three of its last four.

For the Blue Jackets, the game will be the opening leg of a tough back-to-back that ends Thursday night against the Penguins in Pittsburgh. Then it's back home again for a Metropolitan Division matchup Saturday with the Philadelphia Flyers to wrap up a stretch of three games in four nights.

The Maple Leafs (21-13-1) have one more win than the Blue Jackets (20-13-1), which suggests the teams are evenly matched.

But Columbus has fallen out of the Metro lead. Toronto is second in the Atlantic Division, well behind first-place Tampa Bay by seven points.

Tyler Bozak and Mitch Marner each had a goal and three assists in the Maple Leafs' rout against the Hurricanes. Marner's goal -- his third of the season -- ended a long scoring drought.

"It's a great win for us, especially going into tomorrow (against the Blue Jackets)," Marner said. "I just felt like I was skating. I think our whole line was skating in general and we were creating chances for each other."

The Maple Leafs won without defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, who could miss up to two weeks with a lower-body injury, and star center Auston Matthews.

Matthews appears close to returning after missing the past five games with an upper-body injury.

"Good players, when they go down, it's an opportunity for other players to step up and do that little extra," Toronto forward Patrick Marleau said.

Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella is not panicking yet over a couple losses. He is concerned, though, with the effort from his team.

"I've said all year long here, I think we need to be a harder team to play against," Tortorella said, "and it's not just body-checking and rebounds, and stuff like that. It's just dictating the game, and we've got to continue to work at that."

Forward Josh Anderson agrees. His team-best 13th goal of the season cut the deficit to 3-1 early in the third period against the Bruins on Monday night, but the Blue Jackets were smoked after that and outshot 45-18 in the game.

"We've got to find ways to get everybody going here -- all four lines -- and we've got to be harder to play against," Anderson said. "I think we're too easy to play against right now, and teams are taking advantage of it."

Updated December 20, 2017

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