Well that was a huge disappointment.
After over 100 days between games, the Maple Leafs returned to the ice last night to play some meaningful hockey in August. Unfortunately, their opponent the Columbus Blue Jackets executed their game plan to perfection. Shutting down Matthews and Co. en route to a 2-0 win and a 1-0 series lead in this best-of-five.
As always, I would suggest watching the highlight package either beforehand or follow along with it. You can find the video here.
Blue Jackets 1st Goal – Cam Atkinson (Assist Savard)
— x-Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) August 3, 2020
This goal all starts with some poor puck possession from the Maple Leafs in the neutral zone. Muzzin and Holl fumble around with the puck before Muzzin sends a stretch pass up to Marner at the Blue Jackets blueline. Marner is pressured quickly by Seth Jones, forcing Marner to have to redirect the puck into the Blue Jackets zone. David Savard picks up the loose puck and sends a stretch pass of his own past Marner and onto Cam Atkinson’s stick. Atkinson catches the Leafs on a line-change and is able to skate into the Leafs zone and fire a shot on net that ends up squeaking through Andersen.
This was a game to forget for Marner. Nothing seemed to click for him and he looked out of sync the entire night. On this goal in particular, Marner has to get that puck deep into the Blue Jackets zone. It’s plausible Marner was trying to one-touch the Muzzin stretch pass to a streaking Tavares but missed him and again that only further reinforces the importance of getting that puck in deep.
After Savard collects the puck, he zings a pass past Marner who is late sealing off the wall, which allows the puck to get up to Atkinson. Andersen played a really good game last night, but this Atkinson goal is definitely one he will want to have back. The puck is shot and squeaks right under his blocking arm.
Blue Jackets 2nd Goal – Alexander Wennberg (Assist Foligno, Atkinson)
— Alison (@AlisonL) August 3, 2020
The Leafs find themselves down 1-0 in the final minutes of the game. Andersen is pulled as the Leafs try to tie the game up. Unfortunately, they could never cleanly break into the Blue Jackets zone and set-up their offensive plan for sustained zone pressure and time. The Blue Jackets are able to weather the storm and Wennberg seals the victory for the Blue Jackets with the empty net goal.
In the video, the Leafs struggle to gain entry into the Blue Jackets zone, which forces Matthews and Marner to throw the puck away and turn it over. The Blue Jackets are very good at sticking to their system and waiting for their opponent to make a mistake.
Not a very good effort for the Leafs. They ended up playing right into the Blue Jackets hand and allowed them to execute their game plan perfectly. It will be interesting to see how the Leafs respond tomorrow in game two. The Blue Jackets did an excellent job of clogging up the neutral zone, reducing the Leafs scoring chances off the rush and just sustained zone pressure in general.
The Leafs will also need more from pretty much everyone in the lineup, other than Andersen and you could also argue Matthews. Both of these guys showed up in game one, but they are going to need reinforcements if the Leafs want to tie this series up at 1-1.