A tight, evenly-fought Game 1 was played at Columbus’ preferred style and pace. Creating more space and net-front opportunities will be critical for a Toronto Maple Leafs team that desperately needs a bounce-back win in Game 2 this afternoon (4 p.m. ET, SN).
As Sheldon Keefe mentioned after Game #1, time spent in the offensive zone wasn’t an issue for Toronto. Instead, the struggle for the Leafs came in getting off the perimeter in order to generate high-danger chances, be it in-zone offense or off the rush. The Leafs struggled to gain offensive blueline with control against the neutral-zone forecheck of the Jackets, or generate much in the way of grade-A opportunities with their possessions inside the zone.
Ultimately, these were highly predictable roadblocks for the Leafs given the numbers Columbus has produced this year defensively and the way John Tortorella has coached his teams for years. Creating opportunities in the slot, generating off the rush, and completing east-west plays will be a challenge for Toronto throughout the series; they will need to get more pucks to the front of the net and win battles for second and third opportunities. Quicker, cleaner exits out of the defensive zone to catch Columbus forecheckers before they can check back above the puck will also be necessary if they’re going to generate more looks off the rush than they did in Game 1.
Matchups weren’t a massive surprise in Game #1 and there’s no reason to expect either team’s approach to change all that much this afternoon. The Pierre-Luc Dubois and Oliver Bjorkstrand duo matched up against Auston Matthews’ line and put together an excellent performance. Despite Matthews and Nylander providing the majority of the dangerous offensive minutes for Toronto, the Dubois’ line still managed 59% of the shot attempt share on the night.
The Zach Werenski-Seth Jones top pair had a banner night, both nearing 60% shot share despite predictably difficult minutes. Most of their more dominant shifts came away from their primary matchup against the Matthews line, however, which is a sure indication the Leafs need more from their other three lines tonight. Much of the scrutiny will be fixed on Mitch Marner and John Tavares today; the line needs a response after Game 1 and has to provide an offensive impact against the secondary lines of the Blue Jackets.
Speaking of depth, the Maple Leafs bottom line barely played in Game 1, totaling just over three minutes in ice time. After a tepid push from the Leafs down 1-0 in the final six minutes — they didn’t generate a single shot attempt — we’ll see if Keefe tries to get the bench more involved early in the game. For Game 2, Pierre Engvall will replace Frederik Gauthier at 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 feels especially critical in this game if the Leafs are going to settle down and force Columbus out of their comfort zone. The desperation factor simply has 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 are just kind of looking for different ways we can utilize our offensive-zone time. We actually ended up getting more time in the offensive zone than I thought that we might. I thought it would be a little bit harder to get through the neutral zone, but we did a pretty good job of spending time in their end.
Of course, they did a really good job of keeping us away from their net. That is a big challenge for us — one that we knew we were going to have to face. It is one thing to watch it on video and prepare for it. It is a whole other thing to be in the fight. We have a one-game feel for it and we expect ourselves to be better tomorrow.
Keefe on Matthews and Nylander:
I thought Willy was involved in a lot. I thought he and Auston were two guys that were really driving things for us offensively. In fact, I thought it and I felt it and the stats backed it up — he had the puck on his stick more than anybody in our team in the offensive zone. I would say he was not a problem for us yesterday.
Keefe on how Tavares and Marner can fare better in Game 2:
Just better execution, first of all — taking care of the puck, putting the puck in intelligent spots, looking to find different ways to get involved offensively. This team, as we fully expected, is going to make it really hard for us offensively, particularly off the rush — a spot where Mitch and John have a lot of success. We knew we were facing the number-one team in the NHL when it comes to defending the rush. Because of that, we have to find different ways to score. That is an adjustment.
John Tortorella on David Savard, who blocked five shots in Game 1:
Blocking shots is a big part of defence and [Savard] has it tattooed on his head that he’s going to block shots. That’s a big part of his game. Nothing surprises us as far as how he does that. I think our whole team needs to be better at that after Game 1, but with Savy, that’s a huge part of his game.
Torts on the Gavirkov-Savard pair:
They just play well off of one another. They’ve been paired for quite a while. I just think they’re in-sync. They’re very good defencemen underneath the hash marks and very underrated in terms of what they do up the ice.
Torts on Seth Jones’ physicality:
That’s part of his game. Jonesy plays the way he plays. I thought both teams had a lot of energy — more hitting comes into that way because it’s the first game of the series. But it doesn’t surprise me how Jones plays. He takes up a lot of space and closes out 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 (starter)
#36 Jack Campbell
Marner – Tavares – Matthews
Robertson – Kerfoot – Spezza
Extras: 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 (starter)
#90 Elvis Merzlikins
Injured: Josh Anderson