With the revered Toronto Maple Leafs Coming into town, and an expected credible showing of Leafs fans at Nationwide, here are a few ways you can enhance the game experience for yourself and our friends from up North:
- During pre-game warmups, grab the nearest Toronto fan, point to #61 on the ice, and gleefully say "He's Ours!!!!"
- Helpfully direct them to the Tim Horton's coffee at the concession stands -- then tell them that they only have De-Caf.
- At any time during the evening, grab the nearest Toronto fan, mention Doug MacLean, and gleefully say "He's Yours!!!!"
In all seriousness, Toronto has been playing much better hockey over the past few games. They struggle to score consistently, ranking only 21st in the league with a 2.692 goals per game average. In contrast, the CBJ rank 9th with a 3.111 scoring average.
It is in the defensive end that things get ugly. Toronto and Columbus rank 28th and 29th, respectively in goals surrendered, each giving up a skosh more that 3.5 goals per game. Over the past four games, however, the Blue Jackets are defending at a 2.50 GAA, which is a big improvement.
In net, Gustavsson is coming off of a 3 -0 shutout against Montreal on Tuesday, and Mason (assuming he is the starter tonight) is in the midst of a string of 4 games where he could easily be 4 - 0. He was a hard luck loser of a 2 -1 outing in Ottawa, was betrayed by the blue liners in the shootout loss to Calgary, shut down St. Louis and was brilliant against Chicago.
As I have been preaching to anyone who would listen, a couple of key moves have contributed to the Jacket's improved play. First, moving Kris Russell back into the lineup has paid immediate dividends. His 4 points in 2 games is obvious, but more importantly, he is confidently moving the puck out of the zone, making crisp passes, and opening space for the transition game. In his own zone, he has been good at cutting off pucks, denying passes, and has been stronger on the puck than he has been in the past. Still a misplay every now and then, but he adds energy and awareness.
Secondly, putting Hejda and Commodore back together has already paid dividends. Even though they are each just rounding into shape, they know each other's games and simply blend well as a pair. Splitting them up, while perhaps well intentioned, was a bad move, particularly when they were out of shape. While Rusty's injury is awful, at least something good has emerged in its aftermath.
The trickle down effect to Mason has been obvious. With a few adjustments to his technique, he has been better than any time since the beginning of the season. He has not gotten many breaks, so he is due. Prediction here is 6 - 3 Jackets.
Home ice, confident goalie, resurgent defense -- prediction here