PREVIEW: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Dylan Callaghan-Croley (@DylanCCSports)
July 30, 2020
What They Did In the Regular Season:
Toronto Maple Leafs: 36-25-9 (81 points) - The Maple Leafs had an up-and-down 2019-20 regular season that saw them make a change behind the boards. After getting off to a slow start over their first 23 games, Mike Babcock was fired and the job was handed over to Sheldon Keefe. After Keefe took over, the Maple Leafs went 27-15-5.
Columbus Blue Jackets: 33-22-15 (81 points) - The Blue Jackets were really left for dead heading into this season after losing Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky to free agency. However, the Blue Jackets had different plans and were a consistently good team throughout the season.
Offensive Analysis: EDGE - TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
When it comes to the two teams offensively, Toronto has a pretty huge advantage and it ultimately may decide the series. This season, Toronto was one of the league’s top offenses forcing nearly 3.4 goals per game, good enough for third in the league. The Maple Leafs star powered lineup could go up against any team in the league to say the least. Leading the Maple Leafs in scoring this year was the trio of Auston Matthews (47 G, 33A, 80 PTS), Mitch Marner (16 G, 51 A, 67 PTS) and John Tavares (26 G, 34 A, 60 PTS).
Matthews 80 points were a career-high for the former first overall pick. Also putting together a strong season was forward William Nylander also had a productive regular season tattling 31 goals and 28 assists for 59 points. He was two-points off tying his career high of 61-points. Overall, seven Maple Leafs totaled over 30-points this season and 13 totaled over 20-points. The entire starting lineup for Toronto has the ability to score and make a difference on offense.
While Toronto has one of the leagues most dangerous offenses, Columbus, has one of the leagues worst offenses. Their 2.57 goals forced per game average ranked 27th in the league in the regular season while they struggled to even succeed on the power play above a 16% clip. They don’t have a ton of scoring options either as Pierre Luc-Dubois was the teams leading points getter with 49 points in 70 games. Forward Gustav Nyquist and defenseman Zach Werenski were the only other Blue Jackets to total over 40 points in the regular season.
Defensive Analysis: EDGE - COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
The two teams are not just polar opposites offensively but are polar opposites defensively. Toronto this season struggled at stopping opponents from scoring and getting quality scoring chances while Columbus kept the opposing offensive zones on lockdown for the most part.
For Columbus, the duo blueline duo of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones has been tremendous on both ends of the ice and may be the best defensive duo in the entire NHL. Vladislav Gavrikov and David Savard also put in quality regular seasons. Overall, the Blue Jackets have a pretty solid blue line group that can get the job done.
Toronto, on the other hand, allowed 3.17 goals per game, which ranked 26th in the league this past season struggled throughout the season on defensive side of things. The Maple Leafs often played too loose on the backcheck and made too many mistakes resulting in in over 100 more shots allowed than the league average. It also allowed opposing teams to score on over 10% of their shots, also above the league average.
Throughout the last few years, the Maple Leafs defense has always been an issue and a concern but it appears that no matter what changes they make, they continue to struggle. Last year in the playoffs, the Maple Leafs allowed 3.28 goals per game against the Bruins allowing in 23 goals in a seven-game series.
The goalie situation for both teams is pretty good heading into the playoffs. Toronto will put Frederik Anderson in the net, Anderson appeared in 52 games during the regular season, posting a 29-13-7 record to go along with a .909 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.85. For Columbus, they have two options in Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. Korpisalo played in 37 games, starting 35 this season and collected a 19-12-5 record with a .911 save percentage and a 2.60 goals against average. Merzlikins didn’t post a bad stat line himself, playing in 33 games with 31 starts. In those 33 games, he was 13-9-8 with a .923 save percentage and 2.35 goals against average.
Special Teams: EDGE - EVEN
When it comes to special teams, this series on paper is pretty even. The Maple Leafs have a tremendous power play that ranks sixth in the league at success rate of 23.1% but they struggle mightily on the penalty kill, allowing goals 23.3% of the time. Columbus, on the other hand, struggles on the powerplay, converting at a 16.4% clip which ranks 27th in the league. Their penalty kill, however, ranks 12th as they kill off 81.7% of their opponents powerplays.
Overall, this series is two teams that are really complete opposites. The Maple Leafs can score with the best of them and will light the lamp at Will at times. The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, can shut down the best offenses and dominate the game defensively. The Blue Jackets pulled an all-time shocker against the Tampa Bay Lightning last year but I don’t see that happening again this year. This could be a close series but I’ll take the raw talent of the Maple Leafs. That being said if Frederik Anderson struggles, this series could go down hill quickly for the Maple Leafs.