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Toronto showed depth in beating the Blue Jackets

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The final score was closer than expected, but the Leafs earned a deserved victory by making 50 shots on goal.

The Toronto Stars couldn’t beat Jet Graves in his NHL debut, but Alex Kerfoot scored and Zach Aston Reese added not one, but two goals. Auston Matthews sealed the victory with an empty goal, which he deserved given his performance. Joseph Wall fell before Columbus’ first goal, but made a save in the dying minutes to preserve the win.

Let’s get to the results!

The first star

Zack Aston Reese

Aston Race opened the scoring five minutes after Justin Hall found him alone in the slot:

He had another good chance before the break, five on five no chance the first time around. He had another good opportunity in the slot to start second, then scored his tenth of the season, swerving midway through third:

The second star

Austin Mathews

Matthews was asked to lead a line without Marner or Nylander, and had a good opportunity to score a minute later. His rushing speed forced Sean Coralley to punt, but the Leafs couldn’t capitalize on their first power play. He finished the match with four shots on goal in just the first half, including another fine strike in the dying minutes.

He kept creating opportunity after opportunity, but he just couldn’t stop. Graves made an impressive power-saving gauntlet in the second period, and Matthews set up Riley for a great shot midway through the period. He almost scored on the highlight reel at third after dancing around Andrew Beck:

He missed the net on a chance to rebound with four minutes left, but his sixth shot eventually hit the net when Greaves equalized with an extra striker:

The third star

Morgan Riley

He found Riley Brody, and while he scored for Columbus in the first period, it wasn’t exactly his goal. He defended two games to one midway through the second game and had a good chance to score minutes later. He finished with nine (!) shots on goal and was instrumental in Toronto’s impressive power puck move. I felt like the Leafs were always playing hard in their minutes.

Player reports


Jake McCabe

McCabe put in a fine display to put Sam Lafferty into the net after five minutes. Laverty’s shot was blocked, but the Leafs scored seconds later. He had a high penalty at the end of the first half, but also made some solid defensive passes and looked bigger and faster than Columbus’ forwards. He got a big help by pulling a deflection midway through the third.


Noel Akari

Akyari returned to the lineup for the first time since March 26, and threw a big bunt in 8 minutes. The Leafs struggled to create chances in two minutes in the first two shorts, but managed to defend and put up an impressive shorthand play to clear the area:

He then blocked a shot in the dying minutes while defending a one-goal lead. Although he didn’t do much offensively, he still did a lot of little things well.

Alex Kerfoot

Carefoot’s minutes were very dull in the first, but he gave the Leaf the lead to start the second. He started the game by intercepting a pass in the neutral zone, and made the most of the juicy rebound after Graves made a fine save from Abruzzo:

He then put in a fine display to set up Liljegren for a great chance at the end of the period, but then took a penalty.

John Tavares and William Nylander

Nylander found Tavares in the hole halfway through the first, but the Toronto skipper couldn’t capitalize on him. Marner then found Nylander in the slot late in the period, but once again Graves rose to the challenge. The Leafs beat the Blue Jackets soundly in their minutes, Tavares finished with seven shots on goal, and the power play looked fantastic. All that was missing were the results on the dashboard.

Mitch Marmer

Marner returned to the lineup after spending the night against Detroit and put Nylander in the slot late in the first. He was blocked from scoring for the second game in a row, but the Leafs got an 87 percent expected goals 5-for-5 when he was on the ice. He shot hard in play and also had some solid passes defensively.

And most importantly, he didn’t get hurt here:

b +

David Kampf and Sam Laverty

Their streak was great early on and produced Toronto’s only goal of the period. Kämpf then caught a secondary in the second with a nice rushing pass. Lafferty gave Aston Reese a shot in the net to start at second, but also had a giveaway midway to second that extended offensive zone time for Columbus. With the Leafs protected by a goal with six minutes left, Laverty’s effort to check things out saw Toronto play hard.

Third husband (Mark Giordano and Timothy Lillegren)

Giordano is back in the lineup after leaving Sunday night, and the Cards are 72% five-for-five when on the ice. He had a key save five minutes into the third, and another after Columbus pulled their goalkeeper. Liljegren showed off his strong transitional defense to break a strange rush late in the first. He was beaten for rushing a nice pass halfway through the second, but the Leafs didn’t feel comfortable anymore. He stopped Boone Jenner at the last minute to avoid a flick:

Justin’s room

Hall got off to a great start, showing good patience to put Aston Reese into the slot for Toronto’s first goal. His pair was dominant in the first, as he wasn’t in a five-on-five situation. His second period wasn’t as strong and he had a turnover that gave Kent Johnson a good chance, but that was the only blemish on his record before the break. Unfortunately, he was caught off guard before Columbus’ second goal.


Nick Abruzzo

Playing in his second game of the season with the Leafs, Abbruzzese got his second career assist. Graves slid across the ice to steal Abbruzzese’s goal, but Kerfoot was there to take advantage of the rebound. He only played 8:51 and didn’t spend much time on his side.

Michael Bunting

Ponting produced a superb cross to pass the Appruzzi at the end of Toronto’s strong opener, but it did not result in a goal. He was then caught in no man’s land when he covered Brody before Columbus’ first target. However, he set up Matthews for a solid play opportunity midway through the second and then provided a takeaway that led to two more chances for his teammates.

TJ Brody

Brodie threw the puck before Columbus’ first goal, but it wasn’t anything terrible. He combined with Riley, who played very well, with 75% five-to-five goals in his minutes.

Wall Joseph

Recovered from the Marlies after an injury to Matt Murray, Wall did not face his second shot until 12 minutes later. He only faced five shots in the first, but had Columbus’ best scoring opportunity:

He was busier at the start and beat Kirill Marchenko and Kent Johnson to knockouts in the opening minutes. His best save in the frame was on Emil Bemström in the final minute, stopping 16 from 17-40 to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead going into the break.

Wall didn’t have many serious chances to start the third, but Columbus’ fifth shot beat him when Eric Robinson fired a perfect shot from an odd angle:

He finished with 24 saves in 26 games for the win.


Yernrock Street

Järnkrok played 14:37 and did not score a shot on goal. He spent most of the game in the attacking area, but played with Matthews and had little effect.

The result

Final score: A-

The Leafs were expected to beat a team that entered the game with a 22-44-8 record. The Blue Jackets roster looked like a pre-season roster and the goaltender was making his NHL debut. While the final score was too close for relief, Toronto still held a 33-17 lead on penalties going into the second half, and the vast majority of Columbus’ chances were low-risk.

Matthews still looks like a 2021-22 version of himself, and the power play in Toronto looked very dangerous even though he didn’t score. The Stars couldn’t beat Graves in his NHL debut, but two unlikely scorers took the lead at Aston Race and Carefoot. The Leafs have been looking like the Carolina Hurricanes lately, outsmarting their opponent massively but sometimes having trouble capitalizing. However, they played well and fully deserved the two points.

What’s next for The Leafs?

Head to Boston to take on the Bruins this Thursday at 7 p.m. on Sportsnet.

(Top photo by Zach Aston Reese: John E. Sokolowski/USA Today)

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