Forty-eight hours removed from what proved to be a defensive slugfest that saw the Leafs finish the night with a goose-egg, Toronto gets a shot at redemption this afternoon as they look to even the series against the Blue Jackets. Unlike a regular playoff series where there is little reason to panic after going down 1-0 in a playoff series, the urgency is increasing as this series is a best of five.
So it’s understandable why some fans are feeling a bit anxious after the Leafs were shutout in a playoff game. Given that Columbus likes to play trap-style hockey and suck the life out of the opposition’s attack, the Leafs will need to find a way to generate more offensive looks in tonight’s game if they want to stand a chance.
That’s not to say the Leafs didn’t put up a fight in that game (with the exception being the final six minutes), because there were some quality looks from Toronto throughout. Unfortunately, those weren’t as frequent since the majority of their chances were from low-percentage areas.
Columbus thrives off the forecheck and capitalizing on the opposition’s misplays. If the Leafs want to right the ship in Game 2, they will need to find a way to use their speed to catch the Blue Jackets off guard and generate odd-man rushes.
Keefe: “I thought we played a good enough game to win today. But obviously you can’t win if you don’t score.”
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) August 3, 2020
It will all be for naught though if they don’t put the puck in the back of the net. Because for obvious reasons, that is how you win the game of hockey.
Toronto has the firepower to make it happen, now let’s see it.
While he did let in a stinker to begin the third period (which also happened to be the game-winner), all signs point to Frederik Andersen getting the start for Game 2 unless something crazy happens between now and puck drop. Make no mistake, Andersen played well in the game and gave his team a chance to win the game. As previously mentioned, the players in front of him could not muster anything offensively and he will need all the support he can get to record the win.
John Tortorella keeps his cards close to his chest in regards to how he determines the starter. But Joonas Korpisalo played excellent in Game 1 and recorded a shutout, the first one in the playoffs in Blue Jackets history. I would be shocked if he wasn’t given the nod for this afternoon’s contest, though Elvis Merzlikins is still a worthy option if they do decide to switch things up.
To put it bluntly, Mitch Marner did not play well in Game 1. While the underlying metrics may have painted him in a positive light, Marner did not seem to dictate the pace of play much and his line was not able to consistently generate quality scoring chances throughout the night. Now Columbus’ masterful defensive performance did play a big role in his lines struggles, but you would like to see the second unit adjust better to what the Blue Jackets are throwing at them. After all, Marner wasn’t paid roughly $10.9 million a season to have trouble adjusting to how the opposition is playing him. Along with John Tavares and Ilya Mikheyev, Marner simply has to be better if the Leafs want to tie the series.
Oliver Bjorkstrand, by contrast, was one of the Blue Jackets’ best player in Game 1 as he seemed to initiate so many great looks offensively and could have easily finished the night with multiple points. Not only that, but he was also playing the body well and forced turnovers all game long. Bjorkstrand is a player the Leafs need to really keep an eye on all series long because he has the ability to be a game-breaker, which is why he led Columbus in goals and finished fourth in points. Toronto will be a world of trouble if they cannot neutralize him and his line the rest of the way.
Puck drop is scheduled for 4 p.m. EST and will be aired on Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada, plus NBCSN and NHL TV in the United States.
As always, be sure to contribute to the Leafs Swear Jar if you haven’t already. You had plenty of reasons to curse out on Sunday, why not channel that towards a good cause!
All stats unless otherwise noted are from Hockey-Reference.com and Natural Stat Trick.
All salary information is from Puckpedia.com.