A playoff tournament after months off for the league was music to the ears of many Toronto Maple Leafs fans. “Teams will be rusty, and the hockey will be wide open,” went the general thinking.
This game was anything but. It was exactly what Columbus wanted; they kept the scoring chances down, everything to the outside, clogged shooting lanes, and waited patiently for a go-ahead goal.
Columbus sent in two forecheckers up until the 1-0 goal, daring the Leafs defense to break out cleanly. They couldn’t do it. Once they gained the lead, Columbus completely shut the game down, and the Leafs could barely get through the neutral zone.
Right into the game in 10:
1. The Leafs had a few chances early on through Nick Robertson and John Tavares, but beyond that, Columbus took it to the Leafs for long stretches in the first eight minutes or so. I thought Columbus would come out amped up and looking to hit everything that moved, but they didn’t, really. Instead, they tried to establish a cycle, clog up the neutral zone, and slow the game down.
The Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl pairing had a tough start with both giving the puck away, but after the first commercial break, Sheldon Keefe put them back out with the Auston Matthews line (which seems to be their top unit to go head-to-head against the Jackets), and they had a great shift in the Columbus zone. It settled the game down nicely.
2. The first huge save of the game went to Frederik Andersen on a Pierre-Luc Dubois breakaway halfway through the first period. It came against the Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl pairing, which had a rough night overall. In general, Andersen was really good tonight. He made a huge toe save in the second period and was solid and square to the puck all night. However, as has become almost a tradition for him now, he let in a super weak one in the playoffs. It broke the tie and the Leafs never recovered. We’ve said this a million times throughout the past few seasons and it still rings true – The Leafs are going nowhere without Andersen playing really well.
3. At the other end, Joonas Korpisalo was fantastic. As the Blue Jackets clog the middle of the ice and shooting lanes and snuff out essentially all of the odd-man rush opportunities, the Leafs will need to adjust their approach here. More pucks on net (from any angle, really… just get it there), and crash the net hard for rebound opportunities.
There was one play in particular where Jake Muzzin took a hard slap shot and the rebound was just lying in the crease, but no Leaf was anywhere to be found. They might eventually open them up for pretty goals, but they have to embrace scoring ugly ones in this series.
4. Kasperi Kapanen had a partial breakaway with around five minutes left in the first period with a defender hot on his trail. He slammed on the breaks and wasted a chance. He’s done this move before and had success, but really, the play should be dropping his shoulder, kicking out his knee to block the defender’s stick, and taking it hard to the net. Generally speaking, the play isn’t to stop up – especially with his speed:
— Alison (@AlisonL) August 3, 2020
He can do it, too:
5. Columbus looked like John Tortorella’s old Rangers teams on the night – ready to block shots, keep everything to the outside, and clog up the middle of the ice. Look at this William Nylander skate around where they didn’t even pressure him and converged on Auston Matthews in the slot. When he came around ready to shoot, Columbus was ready to block the shot. They are going to be frustrating and disciplined with this approach throughout the series.
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) August 3, 2020
6. The Leafs penalty kill was as aggressive as I’ve ever seen it against Columbus. This strategy makes sense against a top unit that features three shooters (Werenski, Jones, and Bjorkstrand) but is not a unit that is going to score a ton of tic-tac-toe goals. In response, the Leafs are pressuring the points and top of the circle heavily and forcing them to move the puck around instead of load up.
The Leafs will need to be careful at times as Werenski and Jones almost moved them around enough to open up a shot for Bjorkstrand, but overall, this is a sound strategy. It’s a nice little adjustment by the Leafs to crank up the speed and pressure.
7. The last few minutes from the Leafs while down 1-0 were really disappointing. There was just no urgency. William Nylander tried stickhandling through two defenders at the blue line and got stonewalled. The Leafs got it in, and Mitch Marner forced a pass instead of making the simple play; it got picked off and shot out.
We have said this time and again – they will need to shoot pucks in and actually retrieve them by winning battles in playoffs. This game is a great example. More often than not when a puck was dumped in, the Columbus defender won the battle and the Blue Jackets got it out. The Leafs never established any puck possession in the final few minutes, even though they almost got bailed out by Alex Wennberg wasting an empty-net goal opportunity with 45 seconds left.
8. Auston Matthews played nearly 24 minutes tonight, William Nylander was up over 21, and Mitch Marner and John Tavares were around 19 minutes. This is the ice time everyone wanted to see handed out to the Leafs’ stars last Spring. When it came time to make a push in the final five minutes to tie the game, the team had no gas whatsoever.
Every member of the team’s fourth line played under five minutes – they can’t be expected to contribute or make a difference in any capacity with that kind of ice time. These aren’t terrible players, either. Jason Spezza had a productive regular season. Kyle Clifford played a regular shift averaging nearly 10 minutes per night for a Cup winner, yet he can’t be trusted with a semi-regular shift on this team?
When he traded for Clifford, Kyle Dubas said, “If you have those elements to your game that you’re physical and competitive and you have a presence to you, you have to be able to play. He can play — and those guys aren’t in abundance anymore. I think that’s why when they’re available, the cost is pretty high.”
9. Auston Matthews was probably the best Leaf on the night with six shots on goal and some notable battles down low with Seth Jones. In general, he was noticeable on the ice. Marner, Nylander, and Tavares combined for four shots on net and were generally snuffed out. Nylander generated one nice chance where he brought the puck to the slot and turned and fired, while Tavares had a few in the slot, but Marner was unrecognizable on the night. The Leafs do have more star power than Columbus, but you wouldn’t know it if you were watching this game.
10. Entering the series, most onlookers said this is the exact type of series this team has to prove they can win. It is not over by any means, and we’re going to find out what this team is about in a real hurry now with a five-game series and a quick turnaround. We will also start to learn a little more about Sheldon Keefe. He has to make adjustments, which is something the coach before him generally failed to do in the playoffs.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts