First, it’s hockey.
OK, that’s a given. In all seriousness, even though Friday’s match-up stands months away from the playoffs, it carries much significance for both sides.
Columbus and Toronto are trending in different directions as of late. The Blue Jackets have won seven of their last 10 and 13 of their past 16. Up in Ontario, the Leafs have dropped eight of their past ten and fired head coach Randy Carlyle.
When Carlyle was still in charge, Toronto clobbered Columbus 4-1 on Oct. 31. Phill Kessel picked up a goal and two assists as the Leafs jumped out to a 3-0 lead by the third period. At the time, Toronto had won three of four while Columbus was in the midst of what would turn out to be a nine-game winless streak. Oh how the tables have turned.
Speaking of the head coach…
Peter Horachek was named interim coach the morning prior to Toronto’s 6-2 loss to Washington. Carlyle’s firing did not necessarily come as a surprise to many after an apparent divide had formed between Carlyle and management.
With Carlyle out, Horachek has been tasked with righting the ship for the second half of the season. Horachek led the Florida Panthers to a 26-36-4 after the club fired Kevin Dineen. Horachek has been a head coach in five different leagues with his most successful season coming in 2001 after leading the Orlando Solar Bears to 47-28-0 record and International Hockey League Championship.
Horachek’s Panthers went 0-3 against the Blue Jackets, losing by a combined score of 13-6, but this Leaf’s team has a stronger roster than last year’s Panthers, even with the unrest which has occurred in Toronto.
Look at the standings
A lot is up in the air coming into Friday’s match-up, but Thursday night could shake up the standings even further. Going into Friday night, Columbus trails Toronto by six points in the wild card chase. With two consecutive wins over Pittsburgh and New Jersey, Boston built a three-game lead for itself over Toronto and Florida.
Since Boston won, Columbus would stand seven points behind the Bruins for the final wild card spot and eight behind Washington for third in the Metropolitan. Should Toronto win, Horachek’s first victory as interim head coach would put the Leafs one point behind Boston and six points behind Detroit for third in the Atlantic.
Have no fear, Leafs Nation. I’ll be working Friday when the @MapleLeafs take on the Blue Jackets. Leafs have won 12 straight when I work.
— map (@mikecheque12) January 8, 2015
Columbus’s offense vs. Toronto’s defense
Toronto has allowed at least three goals in nine of its last ten games, allowing five or more goals on four occasions. Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have both seen action over the stretch, neither performing well between the pipes with the exception of Bernier’s shutout against Dallas.
Meanwhile in Columbus, the Jackets have scored at least three goals in seven of its last eight games. Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen lead the team in goals with 17 and 13 apiece. Within the Metropolitan division, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek represent the only duo to score more goals than Foligno and Johansen.