2020 NHL Qualifying Spherical Playoff Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Toronto Maple Leafs – By Matt Larkin
Seven skaters who suited up for Toronto’s Recreation-7 loss to Boston final April now not play for the Maple Leafs. It’s outstanding, then, that this staff’s id is nearly unchanged coming into the 2020 playoffs.
Usual Leafs. This staff nonetheless possesses very good scoring expertise able to highlight-reel targets each sport and, underneath new coach Sheldon Keefe, Toronto’s greatest offensive weapons get extra ice time and compile even higher numbers. Auston Matthews lastly has the elite goal-scoring stats to match his elite superior metrics. William Nylander has realized his potential as a top-end scorer now that he has a coach who lets him take an everyday shift with different nice gamers. John Tavares and Mitch Marner stay two of the league’s greatest offensive weapons though they performed on separate traces a lot of the season. Even Zach Hyman has reached a tier of manufacturing no person knew he had. The Leafs ice the NHL’s No. Three offense and No. 6 energy play regardless of having performed a big chunk of the season with out prime puck-moving blueliner Morgan Rielly.
The nice stays, however so does the dangerous. This staff nonetheless defends at a below-average stage. The Leafs do rank within the prime half of the league in shot-attempt suppression, however they sit within the backside half in scoring probabilities and high-danger makes an attempt allowed at 5-on-5, and so they’re one of many weaker penalty-killing groups within the NHL. They’ve truly improved nearly throughout the board of their defensive play this season regardless of enduring accidents to Rielly and Jake Muzzin, however they allowed the sixth-most targets within the NHL because of horrible goaltending. Frederik Andersen stumbled via the worst season of his profession. He graded out 41st among the many 54 qualifying goalies in 5-on-5 targets saved above common per 60 minutes. Keefe has insisted Andersen is “our man,” but when he struggles within the early going, Toronto might flip to insurance coverage coverage Jack Campbell.
X-factor: Getting Muzzin again from a damaged hand for the playoffs issues most, however don’t sleep on the affect of Ilya Mikheyev. His rookie debut was a smash earlier than he sustained a freak minimize on his wrist from a skate in December. Amongst 334 forwards with 500-plus minutes at 5-on-5, he sat 13th in assists per 60 minutes, 33rd in factors per 60 and 24th in photographs per 60. His 6-foot-3, 195-pound body, good pace and accountable two-way play current a bundle that might make a distinction. The Leafs have struggled to win puck battles throughout their three straight first-round playoff defeats. Mikheyev can assist.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – By Ryan Kennedy
The staff that many thought was destined for the basement was truly very aggressive this season regardless of a slew of devastating accidents that included all-world defenseman Seth Jones and former 40-goal man Cam Atkinson. Surviving adversity is one thing these Blue Jackets have coated off simply.
When it comes to strengths, Columbus has been masterfully led by coach John Tortorella, and the Blue Jackets are very happy to maintain issues tight: they led the NHL in one-goal wins this season. Whereas the staff was bottom-five in offense, it was additionally top-five indefense, so if Columbus is taking part in the way in which it desires and imposing its will, there isn’t going to be quite a lot of targets on the board.
Given how playoff hockey tends to go, that’s positively a bonus for the Blue Jackets. They’re a heavy, bodily staff – even with out energy ahead Josh Anderson, who isn’t anticipated to return till subsequent season – and that fashion has confirmed to achieve success of late when you think about the make-up of final 12 months’s finalists in St. Louis and Boston. Pierre-Luc Dubois is the kind of two-way heart who can actually make an affect within the post-season.
For a staff that misplaced a marquee netminder when Sergei Bobrovsky left for Florida as a free agent final summer season, Columbus has truly been golden within the crease. Joonas Korpisalo did the heavy lifting early, even incomes a nod for the All-Star Recreation earlier than a knee damage held him out. In his place, Elvis Merzlikins took off, nabbing 5 shutouts in his first 24 appearances. The assured rookie proved to be an on the spot fan favourite.
The Blue Jackets will not be an amazing possession staff, the penalty kill is merely OK, and the ability play is ugly, so this Columbus outfit actually has its warts. However when you’re on the lookout for a staff that may use “No one believed in us” as motivation, that is your greatest candidate out of the Japanese Convention.
X-factor: Little question the Blue Jackets want extra scoring punch, and because the common season wound down, they might have discovered some in rookie proper winger Emil Bemstrom. Elevated to the highest line with Pierre-Luc Dubois, Bemstrom put up most of his offense within the closing month or so earlier than the season was paused, utilizing his fast shot and nice instincts. A December rib damage probably delayed his NHL improvement, however the potential he confirmed off throughout his breakout SHL marketing campaign final season is changing into fairly evident. Can the slight-framed rookie make an affect within the rugged NHL playoffs? The Blue Jackets shall be lots higher off if he can.
Oct. 4, 2019: Maple Leafs 4, Blue Jackets 1Oct 21, 2019: Blue Jackets 4, Maple Leafs 3 (OT)
Sunday, Aug. 2, 8:00 p.m.: Blue Jackets at Maple LeafsTuesday, Aug. 4, 4:00 p.m: Blue Jackets at Maple LeafsThursday, Aug. 6, TBD: Maple Leafs at Blue JacketsFriday, Aug. 7, TBD: Maple Leafs at Blue Jackets *Sunday, Aug. 9, TBD: Blue Jackets at Maple Leafs *
(All video games listed in japanese time)
THE HOCKEY NEWS’ SERIES PICK: Blue Jackets in 5 video games
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