If That’s All the Blue Jackets Have, Toronto Maple Leafs Will Win

SUNRISE, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 27: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs takes a shot on goal against the Florida Panthers during the third period at BB&T Center on February 27, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 27: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs takes a shot on goal against the Florida Panthers during the third period at BB&T Center on February 27, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs lost last night to the Columbus Blue Jackets in game one of their play-in series.

The Toronto Maple Leafs lost. and while obviously not optimal, it’s really not so bad – if that’s the best Columbus has, then the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to win.

You see, in order for Columbus to win, it took a 100% save percentage and a ridiculous performance by the referees to get it done.  Not to mention a bad bounce that cost Freddie “otherwise in fine form” Andersen his shut-out.

If the Leafs were outhit, out-worked, guilty of bad defense and lost while attempting to play some pond hockey (i.e if they did even one thing their critics fear) there might be something to complain about.

But really, none of that happened.  Toronto wasn’t at a physical disadvantage (they played Kyle Clifford for 3 mins, so they obviously didn’t feel like they were) and they allowed Columbus to have very little offense.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Blue Jackets

In this game, shot attempts (i.e puck possession) were even, the Toronto Maple Leafs had two extra scoring chances (27-25) and each team had nine dangerous chances.  (All stats naturalstattrick.com).

It was an evenly matched game, and this favors the Leafs (in terms of win probability) because of their obviously better shooting talent and the fact that Andersen is a significant upgrade over Korpisalo.

If the Leafs lose a game where their best strength fails them, I don’t worry too much.

If your biggest weakness is exposed and capitalized on, you should worry.  If you are the Leafs and you have to get shut-out to lose, you just take the L and move on with confidence.

Thoughts on the Game

Last night I really liked the Blue Jackets forecheck, and their ability to clog up the neutral zone.   However, that  level of aggression in the O-zone from a “defensive” team is unusual, and the Leafs should be able to exploit it.

Think of it like a blitz in football – if you are successful at it, it stifles the offense just about perfectly.   BUT the reason that teams don’t always use the blitz is because if you mess it up, you’re exposing yourself to easy touchdowns.

Unless Keefe and his staff are completely inept strategically, I highly doubt Columbus can keep being that aggressive without being burned.

As to the neutral zone clogging, the Leafs simply need to make Columbus respect their dump and chase game, and then they can ‘t do it.

Personally, while I thought defensively the Leafs blue-line was OK, I thought they had a lot of trouble with the transition game, and there passes were off all night.  If the D can thread passes on the breakout just a little more accurately, the Leafs will beat the trap with ease.

Again, Columbus played a good game, but not a sustainable one.  Despite their successful shut-down of the Leafs transition game, the Leafs still had an extremely high probability of scoring on a couple of plays.

Nick Robertson’s opening minute chance, and a post on the power-play spring to mind.

Additionally, despite a game that, for him, wasn’t that great, Matthews hit a crossbar, was robbed second earlier on the same shot, and then later was robbed again in close with one of the best glove saves you’re likely to ever see.

Last night Columbus pulled off their game plan perfectly, but in order for them to win, they had to rely on the fact that a pretty-much contained Auston Matthews was robbed of a hattrick.

Leafs and the Refs

Finally, I want to talk about is the refereeing.  Now I am not making excuses here, but an NHL game with only three minor penalties is EXTREMELY RARE.

Out of the ten games that occurred this weekend so far, the lowest amount of minor penalties that a game had was six.  All eight other ones had between 8-15 minor penalties.

Considering that the Leafs have a major special teams advantage in this series, that is just an unfortunate performance by the refs.  But also, one that is unlikely to be repeated.

In game one, everything went the Blue Jackets way, and they still barely won.  I think this is a good omen for the Leafs, and I fully expect them to still win this series.

Final Thoughts

Nylander and Marner both had excellent statistical games, but neither one was all that noticeable.  I guess it’s easy to complain after a shutout, but they were both lacking their normal creativity and explosiveness (to my eye anyways, the stats say they were good).

Jake Muzzin has to be better.  That is not the game I expected from him at all.

The Leafs can’t play Cody Ceci – he is brutal. The Leafs allowed 23 shot-attempts while he was on the ice, and only got 12.  That’s good a 34% CF and that is unacceptable.

Not only is Ceci really, really bad, but he all but neutralizes Morgan Rielly.  I do not want to see him dressed in game two.

Next. Leafs Player Most Likely to Surprise. dark

On the plus side, Justin Holl is definitely a top four NHL defenseman and Travis Dermott is a boss.

Can’t wait till game two.