The Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs meet tonight at the ACC for a matchup of bottom-dwellers in the NHL. There will be no playoffs, there will be no push for the playoffs these next few games. Instead, the Jackets and Leafs will be playing for pride, and looking forward to watching their ping pong balls in the draft lottery. In that respect, the Leafs are ahead of the Blue Jackets, with a 28-40-11 record compared to 30-41-8 for Columbus. So in a sense, the Leafs won at something. It appears like they are going to have the best chance percentage wise of capturing the number one pick in the draft. If the bounce doesn’t go in the Leafs’ favor in the lottery, it is going to be yet another headache for the long suffering Leaf faithful. They did a draft simulation on HNIC Saturday night, with the Blue Jackets garnering the number one selection and the Leafs ending up fourth. Yikes. Wouldn’t that be something or what?
While there isn’t much on the line tonight, this one could be an entertaining affair in Toronto. Both teams would rather forget about this season and opt to look at the future, but this matchup could be entertaining from a fan perspective. If you want a hockey game with a storyline, look no further than the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings. However, with that one starting an hour later than the Blue Jackets and Leafs, why not catch a battle of the losers of the NHL at the ACC in Toronto?
Head coach Mike Babcock is determined to change that dialogue in the coming years for the Leafs. Babcock has about a three-year window to make something happen, or you’re going to start to see fans start to turn on Babcock. He enjoyed so much success in Detroit and got the big money to come to Toronto. Anything but a failure in Toronto will make it look as if Babcock’s successes in Detroit came from the team around him, and not his coaching abilities. This scenario leads to plenty of stress for a coach. Catching the first pick in the draft, would make for a shortcut for Babcock and the Leafs. Before then though, let’s see how the Leafs fair as they conclude the season. Blue Jackets and Leafs tonight in Toronto.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs NHL Pick
By all indications, it appears that Garret Sparks will get the start in net tonight. The end of the season has been a trial period for him of sorts. The Leafs are trying to decide what they should do with him for next season. Keep him up in the NHL, or send him to the minors to work on his craft at a lower level. If I were making the decision, Sparks should be with the Marlies next season. He has shown up on occasions, but he has some flaws that are evident in his game. Notably, his ability to control the puck needs to improve drastically. Sparks has been a rebound machine, facilitating endless opportunities for the other team. He was hard on himself after losing to the Wings on Saturday night, but he did allow a couple of softies which had no business getting behind him. A save percentage of 0.897 is not going to cut it in the NHL.
I think the Blue Jackets might have a decision to make next season as well. Joonas Korpisalo took over for Sergei Bobrovsky after an injury bumped him out earlier in the season. With Bobrovsky healthy now, has he really been the better goaltender? The way I see it, the nod goes to the youngster, Korpisalo. The Blue Jackets will look to improve the defense as a whole in the offseason, as they could have needed some more help this season. They enter tonight 29th in the NHL in goals against, a mark which equals 3.06 goals against. In their last ten games, they’ve given up 3.10 goals per game. Ditto for the Leafs, as they allowed 3.10 goals a game themselves. This game is going to be wide open tonight, with plenty of goal scoring chances. Sparks and his rebounds should provide enough of those for the Jackets. This has the makings for an offensive showing. I lean towards the OVER 5.5 at the ACC tonight in Toronto.
PICK: OVER 5.5 GOALS (+110)