Teams made their rosters official over the weekend, deciding who will be coming with the team into the bubble in Toronto. While we’ve already covered the Leafs bubble roster, the other team that concerns us is our newly fierce rival, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
— Alison (@AlisonL) July 26, 2020
So, here’s how the depth chart lines up:
*unavailable for series against Toronto
The Blue Jackets elected to go with 17 forwards, 11 defensemen, and three goalies, compared to the Leafs 16 forwards, 10 defensemen, and four goalies. All that means is that the Blue Jackets are looking for more depth player wise, while the Leafs decided it was better used for an extra goalie spot, as well as an extra spot for a staff member to bring into the bubble.
This left forwards Ryan MacInnis and Kole Sherwood, and goaltender Veini Vehvilainen as the cast offs. From my limited knowledge of the Blue Jackets, this probably makes sense, considering that Sherwood and Vehvilainen didn’t play a game for the Blue Jackets, and MacInnis is one of only two Blue Jackets forwards to play 10 games or fewer this season, with the other being Nathan Gerbe. Considering that Gerbe has almost 400 NHL games on MacInnis, and has actually played in the playoffs (although both of instances were with Buffalo, so it was a long time ago), these choices make sense.
You probably could’ve gotten rid of Gerbe or Clendening (who also didn’t play a game for the Blue Jackets this year) in exchange for a fourth goalie to help out with practice or injury insurance, but the chances are probably really slim that it comes back to bite them.
Now, onto the line combinations, via Daily Faceoff:
These line combinations are from July 20th, a week ago, so they could very well have changed by this point, but that doesn’t mean we can’t over analyze them!
As far as the forwards go, my biggest complaint would probably be that they have Bemstrom in the lineup instead of Shore, but that’s like saying the Leafs should have Engvall in the lineup instead of Gauthier. Texier on the first line seems excessive too, but it’s pretty clear he’s mostly there to fill for Anderson until he returns, and I’d imagine they didn’t want to completely mess up the top six.
I think the matchups forward wise are pretty easy. At this point, I’d probably have Muzzin-Holl face the Dubois line, as they are much more threatening at both ends of the ice than the Wennberg line. If you want to even it out somewhat, have Matthews go out against Wennberg, but I’d be much more focus on matching Matthews with Werenski-Jones.
Why’s that you ask? Well, I’ve already said my piece on Werenski and Jones as a top pair, and if they’re the ones facing tough competition, that’s not as bad of a situation as one may think. Neither defender has played at the elite level that they’re given praise for, at least for a couple seasons, and both defenders are the worst regular defensemen on the Blue Jackets at limiting scoring chances against, aside from Scott Harrington.
The Blue Jackets have systemically created a suffocating defense that excels at limiting scoring chances, and yet their two “best” defensemen are two of the worst at it. If you can get either the Matthews or Tavares lines out there against them, the Leafs would be a lot better off at creating chances than they would against Gavrikov-Savard or Murray-Kukan.
In fact, it wouldn’t surprise the line that gets matched against Werenski-Jones (likely Matthews because his 47 goals probably garners the most attention) is the line that ends up seeing more success in this postseason, while the other line sees lesser success and the bottom six contributes little offense. This has some evidence from the regular season, as four of the seven goals the Leafs scored against Columbus this season saw either Werenski or Jones on the ice, at different strengths too, as they came at even strength, on the power play, and the penalty kill.
As for goaltending, we don’t know who’s the starter just yet, although it seems like both Merzlikins and Korpisalo might get chances in this series. I’d imagine Merzlikins gets the game one start since he had the better season, and it looks like Korpisalo hasn’t been having the best camp either.
Regardless of the matchups, it should be an interesting series all around, as both teams bring different skill sets to the table, so it’ll just be a matter of who can do their specific skills better. As I mentioned in my last article, I think rustiness will probably create a sloppier game that benefits the Leafs, but Merzlinkins could easily decide to shut them down over the series and give the Blue Jackets the series too. It’s going to be a close and exciting series, at least.