143 days since the break, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets return to meaningful action on Day 2 of the NHL return-to-play season for Game 1 of their best qualifying series of five series playoffs tonight at 8 p.m. ET (Sportsnet, NHL Network).
While the vast majority of media pundits and statistic-based analysts have given Toronto the edge in their predictions for this series, many are also quick to point out that this miniseries is truly “unstoppable force meets object.” stand still ”- type of game in terms of Toronto’s offense against Columbus’ defense – and it all plays out under a highly unpredictable set of circumstances and playoff format. We’ve already seen some major upheaval in Game One from the two lowest-ranked teams in the 24-team playoffs in the Edmonton-Chicago and Pittsburgh-Montreal playoffs yesterday.
The Leafs and Blue Jackets rosters have evolved steadily this year due to significant injuries on both sides (Toronto was in the top ten in men’s games lost, Columbus leading the league), but their squad-level numbers reveal clear strength and weakness – and have the entire season despite all other variables in play.
The Leafs finished their 70-game regular season fourth in xGoals / 60 and eighth in goals / 60, while the Jackets were fourth (28th) in the NHL in both measures. Flip it over to the other end of the ice and the Leafs were 18th in xGoalsAgainst / 60 and 27th in GoalsAgainst / 60, while the Jackets were third and fifth, respectively. There’s a lot more to dig into those numbers, obviously, given the change in coaching that drastically altered the Leafs’ numbers after Sheldon Keefe took over and – again – the number of injuries both teams suffered. this season, but the contrast between the playing styles of the two clubs is clear.
In the exhibition game against Montreal, the Leafs mostly showed the key metrics the coaching staff were looking to see in terms of their commitment to follow defensively and limit the odds against in five-a-side units, as the Tied attack was not fully lit but scored twice in addition to two shorthanded scorers. The Blue Jackets, in a 4-1 win over Boston, sent a message about their preparation for the playoff challenge by giving the Bruins’ powerful offense next to nothing, playing over the puck all the time. match, slowing them down on neutral ice, blocking them. lunge into the defensive zone, and be opportunistic at the other end. A typical Blue Jacket game, so to speak.
Much of this series will be determined by which player will play the match over the course of the three to five matches. If the fastest, most skilled Leafs can execute the defense quickly and exit the zone effectively, traverse the neutral zone with pace, and spend much of their time on the attack, the series is theirs – and could end. finish quickly. If the Blue Jackets are able to give the Leafs a headache with their forward failure, block them in the neutral zone and limit the chances of a run as successfully as the entire season, it will be a long and grueling battle for Toronto. .
Goal, as always, is a major factor in any series – not to mention a five-game sprint – and there could be even more unpredictability in this series than there normally would be in the post. The Leafs have elite starting talent who had their worst year in four seasons in Toronto, performing well below the league average from December through February, while the Blue Jackets starter at net could change in course of the match according to the progress of the series. .
The numbers favor 25-year-old rookie Elvis Merzlikins, who didn’t start much early in the year but caught fire and started the majority of games from December – his hottest month coming in January, from far. But the Blue Jackets are accompanying the more experienced Joonas Korpisalo for Game 1, who has played five seasons with Columbus now but has only started 116 games in the NHL before sharing the net with Merzlikins this season. He has proven to be a slightly above average goaltender in his 35 starts, finishing just under seven goals above replacement compared to Merzlikins’ +11.8 in 31 starts.
That is enough, however. The Lord knows that we have done enough in the past few weeks and months. It’s game time.
Statistics and adjusted goals for score and venue
Match Day Quotes
John Tortorella on the decision to create Joonas Korpisalo:
I don’t explain it. Don’t even go there. They are both capable. We chose Korpy.
Tortorella on Dubois vs. Matthews and Jenner vs. Tavares in the regular season, and whether he will continue clashes:
We have never been a team that focuses on confrontations. We are not going to be. I don’t remember the game and I don’t remember when we played the game against Toronto. We will play and everyone will have an opportunity. I will make a call as we finish the game to see who gives us the best chances.
When it comes to the games, we don’t worry too much and don’t get attached to it.
Tortorella on the need for certain key players to step up offensively:
There is no question. We see it as a playoff game for us as we start tonight. It is important that our best players do what they need to do on the offensive. We just can’t rely on grinding. We need big plays at key points offensively if we are to have the ability to keep moving forward.
In our team, the guys know where the responsibility lies and what needs to be done. I feel quite comfortable with the state of mind of the whole group.
Tortorella to find out if the game plan that worked against Tampa last year is the same in-store as Toronto’s:
I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about it, but not really. There are always different things that other teams present to you. Again, in Columbus, we don’t change the way we play much. We’re going to be who we are when we start the first game tonight.
Sheldon Keefe on what he’s looking for from his new third line from Robertson – Kerfoot – Kapanen and whether he’s expecting a production:
We want the production of all our lines. We believe we have the capacity to make this happen. Of course, anytime you can get production from your third and fourth lines, that’s a bonus. There’s a lot of attention on our first two lines, of course. If there is any indication, our third row was our best row in the exhibition game the other day. It was a very positive sign for us.
Kerfoot and Kapanen were excellent. These guys feel really good here now and have been good for days in a row. Robertson also brings a lot to this group. I am excited about this line, but we need everyone.
Keefe on his message to Robertson ahead of his NHL debut:
I spoke with Nick yesterday. It’s really kind of preparing him for that and giving him the peace of mind he’s going to play. It really is. We don’t want to overthink this for any of our players. We just want to go out and play.
In a situation like Nick’s, it might turn out to be a bit of an advantage that there aren’t any fans in the building. He can just go out and focus and do what he needs to do.
Toronto Maple Leafs projected lines
# 88 William Nylander – # 34 Auston Matthews – # 11 Zach Hyman
# 65 Ilya Mikheyev – # 91 John Tavares – # 16 Mitch Marner
# 89 Nick Robertson – # 15 Alex Kerfoot – # 24 Kasperi Kapanen
# 73 Kyle Clifford – # 33 Frederik Gauthier – # 19 Jason Spezza
# 8 Jake Muzzin – # 3 Justin Holl
# 44 Morgan Rielly – # 83 Cody Ceci
# 23 Travis Dermott – # 94 Tyson Barrie
# 31 Frederik Andersen (partant)
# 36 Jack Campbell
Marner – Tavares – Matthews
Robertson – Kerfoot – Spezza
Supplements: Pierre Engvall, Rasmus Sandin, Denis Malgin, Nic Petan, Calle Rosen, Martin Marincin
Injured: Andreas Johnsson
Columbus Blue Jackets Projected Lines
# 42 Alexandre Texier – # 18 Pierre-Luc Dubois – # 28 Oliver Bjorkstrand
# 71 Nick Foligno – # 10 Alexander Wennberg – # 13 Cam Atkinson
# 14 Gustav Nyquist – # 38 Boone Jenner – # 19 Liam Foudy
# 50 Eric Robinson – # 20 Riley Nash – # 52 Emil Bemstrom
# 8 Zach Werenski – # 3 Seth Jones
# 44 Vladislav Gavrikov – # 58 David Savard
# 27 Ryan Murray – # 46 Dean Kukan
# 70 Joonas Korpisalo (titulaire)
# 90 Elvis Merzlikins
Injured: Josh Anderson