The Toronto Maple Leafs are getting ready to square off in the Stanley Cup Playoff Qualifiers against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
When it comes to formulating a defensive strategy, who should the Toronto Maple Leafs be focusing on ahead of the series?
On paper, the Toronto Maple Leafs are definitely the better team than Columbus, but in a five game series, anything can happen.
The Leafs boast a bevy of high-end forwards, while Columbus plays a much more defensive style. It should be an interesting contrast in styles. Basic and advanced statistics definitely favor the Leafs.
Columbus has a history of overachieving, having swept the President’s Trophy-winning Lightning last year in the first round.
But that team had Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin, all of which left in the off-season as free agents. There is much less high-end talent on the team now. But there are a few guys the Leafs need to be paying attention to.
The 22-year-old left-winger led the team in points this season with 49 in 70 games played. (hockeydb.com) He posted five points in 10 playoff games last season and is coming into his own. While the Leafs need not be terrified of him, he is the best offensive weapon on the team.
There are not a lot of players on Columbus that need to be shut down, but Dubois may be the exception. He looks like the cornerstone of the Blue Jackets future.
Elvis Merzlikins or Joonas Korpisalo
The goaltending duo helped Columbus to the NHL’s third-fewest goals allowed during the regular season. I listed them both here because the Jackets don’t know who will be starting. A hot goalie can steal a five-game series, and that is likely the only way Columbus gets by Toronto.
Merzlikins had the better season by most metrics, posting a 2.35 GAA and .923 SV%, compared to Korpisalo’s 2.60 GAA and .911 SV%.
Neither goalie has started in the playoffs, but with no fans in attendance, it is less likely they will be rattled.
Head Coach John Tortorella
Say what you want about Torts but he gets the most out of his teams. He is a great tactician and can slow down a vaunted attack like the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Jackets are definitely in a talent gap compared to Toronto, but Tortorella can make up some ground with his game plans.
He was recently announced as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as top NHL coach this season. If he wins, it would be his third Jack Adams trophy, tying Pat Burns as the only coach to win it three times.
When you are listing a forward who did not crack 50 points, an unnamed starting goalie and the head coach as the guys to fear on the other side, you have to feel pretty good about your chances.
I expect the Leafs to roll in this series, but stranger things have happened.