Jackets, Leafs play first of two games this week
TORONTO - The Columbus Blue Jackets and the Toronto Maple Leafs are close in the standings and they won't be far away from each other over the next few days, either.
The Blue Jackets will visit the Maple Leafs Monday night and the teams will stage a rematch Friday at Columbus.
The Blue Jackets (12-6-2) have won three in a row and are 5-0-2 over their past seven games after defeating the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 on the road on Saturday with Cam Atkinson notching his fifth career hat trick and added an assist.
The Maple Leafs (14-6-0) also have won three in a row, sweeping all three games in California including a 2-1 overtime victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Friday. The Maple Leafs opened the trip with a 5-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Nov. 10.
"A long road trip, a lot of games, a good test for us to come out here and measure ourselves so I think we're happy with the way we played," said Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly, who scored the overtime winner on Friday.
The game Monday at Scotiabank Arena should be a test for two teams that are playing well.
"It's a fun place to play, especially how good they are and the offseason addition of (John) Tavares and guys like that," said Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski, who scored a goal at Carolina. "It's fun the way we're playing, the way they're playing. It should be a high-paced game."
"We're confident," said Atkinson, who has 12 goals this season. "We're holding on to pucks, our unit especially, making plays when they're there, not forcing anything and getting pucks to the net and retrieving. Keeping it simple, nothing fancy. Taking what they give us and scoring goals, big goals."
Nick Foligno did not play against Carolina Saturday because of a family matter and his status for Monday is unknown.
The Blue Jackets also have had several players, and coach John Tortorella, were affected by an illness over the past week but the worst appears to be over. Tortorella was behind the bench Saturday.
Riley Nash, Artemi Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky missed the 7-3 win over the Florida Panthers Thursday at Nationwide Arena because of illness. They returned for the game Saturday with Panarin notching three assists. Atkinson had missed the 2-1 win over the Washington Capitals Nov. 9 because he was ill.
The Maple Leafs will continue to be without center Auston Matthews, who has been out since injuring his shoulder during a victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 27. The Maple Leafs are 6-3-0 since the injury to Matthews.
The center, who has 10 goals and six assists in 11 games this season, practiced with the Maple Leafs Sunday but was not involved in any contact. A date has not been set for his return.
"For him to be (closer to a return) is motivating," Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri said. "We have been able to put in some work while he is gone, have been able to hold the fort. When Matts went down, even though he is an important player for us, we did not have a sense of panic at all. We just carried on with our business and that has allowed him to get healthy. He will be able to come back when he is really ready."
The Maple Leafs have been more vulnerable at home this season, going 5-5-0 while going 9-1-0 on the road where they seem more relaxed.
The Blue Jackets also have been better on the road, going 7-2-1 compared with 5-4-1 at home.
The Maple Leafs have a game at Carolina before they visit the Blue Jackets, who will have three days off before the game Friday.
Toronto backup goaltender Garret Sparks played the loss in Boston and the win in Anaheim, which means Frederik Andersen should be in goal against Columbus.
"We knew what was at stake," Sparks said after the game Friday. "We had the opportunity to sweep the (California) road trip and we like winning hockey games as a group, so I think we poured out everything that we had left in the tank for the road here, and it was nice to see that effort was enough to win."
Updated November 18, 2018