COLUMBUS -- Gerard Gallant was watching post-game clips from the match between the Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night and couldn't help but notice what some of the Leafs were saying after they lost.
"Some were saying they had three days off and they felt rusty," Gallant, the coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, said after practice yesterday at Nationwide Arena. "We have played one game in the past 10 days, so imagine what our guys feel like. I'm glad we're playing a team like Toronto. Our guys are going to be excited, especially in our building."
Though the Leafs will have to contend with the likes of Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev tonight, they won't have to worry about Sergei Fedorov. There was some thought the veteran Russian would make his season debut against the Leafs after recovering from a shoulder injury, but general manager Doug MacLean announced on his local weekly radio show that would not happen. Fedorov said he is not yet strong enough and wants to participate in full contact drills in practice before he returns.
The Jackets have not played since Saturday, when they were beaten 5-0 by the Minnesota Wild, and that was following four days off. The Jackets have played just four times, the fewest in the NHL, but a larger question remains about their next 78 games. Is this the season the Jackets get to the playoffs after failing in five seasons (not counting the lockout) since their inception?
It's tough not to compare the Jackets to the Wild. Though Minnesota, which was Columbus' expansion brothers in the 2000-01, has made the post-season once, it had three winning seasons in a row. Columbus has none.
But getting Zherdev re-signed was a start. Potential Calder Trophy candidate Gilbert Brule has struggled, but Brampton native Nash has jumped out of the gates.
"I think we are a little more prepared and experienced," Fedorov said. "And our new additions have made us a stronger team all the way around. It's a matter of communication and getting used to each other. Hopefully we will be quicker to realize we have to work hard at it."
Gallant, in his third year behind the Blue Jackets bench, has little doubt about his club's future.
"I definitely think we are there," Gallant said. "There is no doubt in our minds. On any given night we can beat anybody. I believe that and our players believe that."