Blue Jackets get early jump to beat Leafs

COLUMBUS—Both Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and his Columbus counterpart, John Tortorella, stressed the importance of getting a good start Wednesday at the Nationwide Arena. Only one got his message through.

The Blue Jackets scored twice in the first period, and rode that advantage to a 4-2 win over the Leafs, who were playing for the second straight day.

And Babcock blamed more than just the start. “I thought we didn’t compete hard enough,” he said after Toronto dropped its fourth game in five starts.

Outside of a dominant night from the Mitch Marner-Tyler Bozak-James van Riemsdyk line, the Leafs struggled to create offence against a Columbus team that was strong defensively, even without all-star Zach Werenski, who missed the game with an undisclosed injury.

Marner put on an amazing skating and playmaking show in the third period, a strong follow-up to his four-point game in Toronto Tuesday. He scored the game’s final goal on a pretty individual rush from the Leafs zone, beating Carolina goalie Joonas Korpisalo with a wrist shot after flipping the puck past the defence. It was the highlight of an otherwise dull night for the Leafs.

Babcock was bang on about the slow starts, and the compete level, with his club. The Leafs might have outshot Columbus 41-37 but they never recovered from the first period, when Lukas Sedlak and Seth Jones gave the Jackets a two-goal head start.

The Leafs got one back in the second on a Jake Gardiner goal but James van Riemsdyk took a penalty at the end of a strong shift and Pierre-Luc Dubois scored on the power play to restore the two-goal lead.

It was that kind of night for the Leafs: Another broken pass led to a clean break down the left side for Jones on the second goal, while a heavy hit in the corner on Connor Carrick led to a loose puck that was centered and converted by Sedlak for the first.