Maple Leafs-Blue Jackets Preview

The Associated Press

David Clarkson is ready to finally make his Toronto Maple Leafs debut.

The Toronto native returns from a season-opening 10-game suspension Friday night when the Maple Leafs visit the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Clarkson spent his entire seven-year career with New Jersey before signing with Toronto (7-3-0) on July 5 for the next seven years and a reported $36.75 million. His decision came in part due to his affinity for the club, and he said he wore a Wendel Clark jersey as a child.

It was Clarkson's decision to leave the bench and get involved in a massive fight in a Sept. 22 preseason game with Buffalo that resulted in the 10-game ban.

"It's been tough but I mean at the end of the day, lucky enough here in Toronto we've got a great staff and I've been able to do a lot off the ice to get ready and the boys have been winning which makes it easier," Clarkson said. "At the same time, I've got to watch a bit of hockey but I've watched enough and I'm ready to get back at it."

Clarkson scored 30 goals two seasons ago to help the Devils reach the Stanley Cup finals and had 15 goals and nine assists last season. He skated in practice this week on a line with center Dave Bolland and left wing Mason Raymond.

"Obviously he's a veteran guy that's going to bring a new voice into our room and I think his depth up front and all the things that he brings to the team, his grit and his scoring and everything that he brings will be a big boost for us," center Jay McClement said.

Toronto avoided a third straight loss in its final game without Clarkson with Tuesday's 4-2 home win over Anaheim. Phil Kessel recorded a hat trick that ended his four-game goal drought, and James van Riemsdyk had two assists to give him six points over his last four contests.

The Maple Leafs will want to avoid looking ahead to Saturday's showdown with Pittsburgh by first focusing on a Columbus team that is seeking its first three-game win streak.

Sergei Bobrovsky made 24 saves and the Blue Jackets (4-5-0) had four players score in Tuesday's 4-1 victory over New Jersey. They have taken the first two games halfway through this homestand that began after a four-game slide.

"If you look through those losses, we had stretches where we were playing good but just not for long enough," center Brandon Dubinsky said. "Over the last couple of games, we've just dug deep and played complete games."

Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, is 3-1-0 with a 2.26 goals-against average in four career starts versus Toronto.

The Maple Leafs will likely start Jonathan Bernier, who is 2-1-0 with a 2.02 GAA in three outings against the Blue Jackets.

Toronto features one of the league's best power plays at 28.2 percent. It should enjoy a favorable matchup against a Columbus penalty kill struggling at 75.9 percent, including 68.4 in the last five games.

The Maple Leafs are 6-1-2 with one tie in the all-time series.

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