The Toronto Maple Leafs fell into old habits on Sunday night as the Columbus Blue Jackets drew first blood in the best-of-five qualifying round with a 2-0 win. While losing by two doesn’t seem like a huge defeat, this is a massive accomplishment, given the potency of Toronto’s offence.
In a clash of contrasting styles, Columbus was able to establish their agenda and Toronto never really looked comfortable. An aggressive forecheck, intelligent positioning and a couple of huge saves, the Blue Jackets were able to steal game one and set the tone for the rest of the series.
While the Leafs head back to the hotel disappointed and looking for answers, here are three takeaways from game one.
Korpisalo 1, Andersen 0
As the score would suggest, this was quite the low scoring affair; something that the Leafs aren’t necessarily used to. After getting the nod to make his first ever playoff start, Joonas Korpisalo did not disappoint, out-dueling Frederik Andersen and ultimately stealing a game for Columbus.
Even though both netminders made some spectacular saves with the shots being relatively close, Korpisalo did not falter, going a perfect 28/28. Andersen, on the other hand, was perfect until the third; when he allowed a smartly placed shot by Cam Atkinson to squeak right through. While credit goes to Atkinson for the shot, based on Andersen’s reaction, he would’ve liked to have that one back.
If game one is any indication, this will come down to the matchup between the pipes. Both netminders looked calm in the crease, but it’s goals like Atkinson’s that will ultimately be the difference in this series.
Blue Jackets Style Posing Early Problems
As mentioned in my series preview, the play of both the Blue Jackets’ defence and the source of their offensive spark would be crucial in besting the Maple Leafs in this shortened series. Both came to life in game one.
For starters, the Werenski-Jones pairing was on the ice constantly and they did not disappoint. Shutting down the Matthews’ line while simultaneously jumping into the rush to create chances provided Columbus with a classic go-to option. Having two forwards in on the forecheck posed problems for just about every Maple Leafs’ defensemen as both Cody Ceci (who took both Toronto penalties) and Justin Holl were victims of Columbus’ physicality.
The Blue Jackets also clogged up the neutral zone quite a bit which prevented Toronto from accelerating through the middle of the ice. All of Toronto’s forwards, including Morgan Rielly, were struggling to find space in open ice which made for incredibly sluggish zone entries.
To make matters worse, it didn’t even seem like Toronto was ready for what was coming at them. Long before this series got underway, just about every analyst outlined the style of play that best suits Columbus. Toronto played right into their hand. Lazy defensive zone turnovers, selfish play in the middle of the ice, along with countless missed opportunities were just some of the many problems Toronto faced on Sunday night.
Marner, Tavares And Many Others Were Invisible
The Matthews line already had its hands full as they were matched up with Werenski, Jones and Dubois practically the whole night. However, the core of this Maple Leaf offence is their depth down the middle which shockingly disappeared in game one.
Mitch Marner, who logged just over 15 minutes of ice-time, failed to register a shot on goal. John Tavares, one of the drivers behind the Leaf offence, couldn’t seem to get his legs going, even in the heat of battle. Ilya Mikheyev, who was the best forward out of the three, struggled to make an impact in his first game back since his gruesome injury back in March.
On the defensive side of things, Cody Ceci drew a shockingly stark comparison to Jake Gardiner. Taking two momentum-killing penalties along with a handful of giveaways is hardly a recipe for success on any hockey team, let alone one competing for a Stanley Cup. Tyson Barrie didn’t seem to be able to shake off his tough year, struggling to get shots through from the point and coughing up the puck in his own zone.
For a team that prides themselves on their offensive talent, many failed to show up in a crucial game one. Losing a battle to a well structured defence is an early red flag for Leaf fans as they will have to wait until Tuesday for a shot at redemption.
Notes: Nick Robertson looked right at home playing at the NHL level, being the first 18-year-old to debut in the playoffs since Jarome Iginla and having a grade A scoring chance early in the game. He could see some more ice time if Sheldon Keefe ever decides to mix things up. Both Kasperi Kapanen and Frederik Andersen were standouts for Toronto as both held their own while the Leafs offence struggled throughout the game. Game two goes on Tuesday evening at 4:00pmET in downtown Toronto.