A close and evenly contested game was played at Columbus’ preferred style and pace. Creating more space and chances in front of the net will be essential for a Toronto Maple Leafs team desperately in need of a rebound victory in Game 2 this afternoon (4 p.m. ET, SN).
As Sheldon Keefe mentioned after Game 1, time in the attacking zone wasn’t a problem for Toronto. Instead, the fight for the Leafs has come from going out of the perimeter in order to generate the chances of high danger, whether attacking in the zone or out of the rush. The Leafs struggled to get an offensive blue line with control against the Jackets’ neutral front control, or generate a lot of A-level opportunities with their possessions inside the zone.
Ultimately, these were highly predictable obstacles for the Leafs given the numbers Columbus has produced this year on defense and the way John Tortorella has coached his teams for years. Creating opportunities in the slot machine, generating rush and finishing the east-west games will be a challenge for Toronto throughout the series; they will have to put more pucks in front of the net and win battles for the second and third chances. Faster, cleaner exits from the defensive zone to catch the Columbus forward chess before they can get back over the puck will also be needed if they are to generate more looks out of the run than in Game 1.
The clashes didn’t come as a huge surprise in Game 1 and there’s no reason to expect either team’s approach to change that much this afternoon. The duo Pierre-Luc Dubois and Oliver Bjorkstrand took on Auston Matthews’ line and put in a great performance. Although Matthews and Nylander provided the majority of the dangerous offensive minutes for Toronto, the Dubois line still managed 59% of the shot attempts on the night.
Zach Werenski-Seth Jones’ top pair had a record-breaking night, approaching 60% of the shooting share despite predictable difficult minutes. Most of their most dominant changes have come from their main game against the Matthews line, which is a sure indication the Leafs need more of their other three lines tonight. Much of the review will be on Mitch Marner and John Tavares today; the line needs a response after the first game and must provide an offensive impact against the Blue Jackets’ side lines.
Speaking of depth, the Maple Leafs’ net result barely played into Game 1, totaling just over three minutes in ice time. After the Leafs’ lukewarm push down 1-0 in the final six minutes – they haven’t generated a single shot attempt – we’ll see if Keefe tries to get the bench involved earlier in the game. For Game 2, Pierre Engvall will replace Frederik Gauthier in the center alongside Kyle Clifford and Jason Spezza, hopefully giving the trio a better look in transition and a little more offensive firepower.
The first goal is especially critical in this game if the Leafs are to settle down and force Columbus out of their comfort zone. The desperation factor just needs to be there right out of the gates for the Maple Leafs.
Sheldon Keefe on the need for an offensive breakthrough in Game 2:
We’re just looking for different ways to use the time in our attacking zone. In fact, we ended up having more time in the attacking zone than I expected. I thought it would be a little harder to get through the neutral zone, but we had a great time at their end.
Of course, they did a really good job of getting us out of their net. This is a major challenge for us – a challenge that we knew we were going to face. It’s one thing to watch it on video and prepare for it. It’s a whole different thing to be in combat. We have a feel for the game and we expect it to be better tomorrow.
Keefe on Matthews and Nylander:
I thought Willy was involved in a lot of things. I thought he and Auston were two guys who were really running things for us offensively. In fact, I thought it and felt it and the stats confirmed it – he had the puck on his stick more than anyone on our team in the offensive zone. I would say he didn’t pose a problem for us yesterday.
Keefe on how Tavares and Marner can do better in Game 2:
Just better execution, first of all – taking care of the puck, putting the puck in smart places, looking for different ways to get involved offensively. This team, as we fully expected, is going to make it very difficult for us offensively, especially out of the race – a place where Mitch and John are having great success. We knew we were up against the number one team in the NHL to defend the race. For this reason, we have to find different ways to score. It’s an adjustment.
John Tortorella on David Savard, who blocked five shots in Game 1:
Blocking shots is a big part of defense and [Savard] has a tattoo on his head that he’s going to block hits. That’s a big part of his game. Nothing surprises us as to how he does this. I think our whole squad needs to be better at it after the first game, but with Savy that’s a big part of his game.
Crimes against the Gavirkov-Savard pair:
They just play well with each other. They’ve been paired up for a long time. I just think they’re in sync. They are very good defensemen under the hash marks and very underrated for what they do on the ice.
Wrongs about the physicality of Seth Jones:
It’s part of his game. Jonesy plays as he plays. I thought both teams had a lot of energy – more hitting kicks in because it’s the first game of the series. But it doesn’t surprise me how Jones plays. It takes up a lot of space and closes very well.
Toronto Maple Leafs projected lines
# 11 Zach Hyman – # 34 Auston Matthews – # 16 Mitch Marner
# 88 William Nylander – # 91 John Tavares – # 65 Ilya Mikheyev
# 89 Nick Robertson – # 15 Alex Kerfoot – # 24 Kasperi Kapanen
# 73 Kyle Clifford – # 47 Pierre Engvall – # 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: Rasmus Sandin, Denis Malgin, Nic Petan, Calle Rosen, Martin Marincin, Frederik Gauthier
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