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Photo Credit: Scott Maxwell

Scott’s Thoughts: Game 1 vs. Columbus Edition

That’s right, everybody’s least favourite column is no longer weekly during the playoffs. Instead of every Friday, I’m now going to be doing it after every playoff game, so that you all know exactly what I’m thinking going into the next playoff game, because I know you all care about my opinion.

The Leafs had a fine showing in Game 1 of the playoffs, but unfortunately for them, one bounce went for Columbus, and it was basically over. It was certainly disappointing, but the series is far from over.

We made their worse goalie look good

While this may seem like a bad thing, because it means that the Blue Jackets worse goalie shut us out (which is bad), but on the bright side, it means he’s probably going to be playing for the rest of the series.

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That bodes well for the rest of the series, as Elvis Merzlikins has been the better goalie of the two this year, and probably should have gotten the Game 1 start.

Player Save % 5v5 dFSv% GSAA GAR
Merzlikins 0.923 0.2 10.56 11.8
Korpisalo 0.911 -0.23 4.76 6.9
Andersen 0.909 -0.59 -6.04 9.8

Merzlikins is significantly better than Korpisalo in every regard, and while Korpisalo’s season was much better than Andersen’s, having the worse goalie of the two in net for the Blue Jackets increases the Leafs chances of scoring goals in this series, even though he shut them out in Game 1. Is it guaranteed? Of course not, especially in a five game series where luck will play a larger role more than anything, but their odds do increase from this.

While the matchup from this season is an ugly one for Andersen, it looks much better when you look at the past four seasons.

Player Save % 5v5 dFSv% GSAA GAR
Andersen 0.915 0.25 14.99 96.2
Korpisalo 0.904 -0.59 -15.2 5.9

While some of this has to do with Korpisalo mostly playing in a backup role, it’s still notable that this has been Korpisalo’s only good season (and only in 37 games), while this season has been a significant drop off for an otherwise consistent Leafs tenure for Andersen. That doesn’t mean that Korpisalo can’t outduel Freddy for three to five games, but the evidence favours Andersen, and if Korpisalo is the starter for the rest of the series, it favours the Leafs.

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That said, even Merzlikins isn’t a guaranteed advantage for Columbus, as his excellent season came in only 33 games, and those are the only games of his career, so even his sample is big enough to say that he’s clearly better than Freddy.

This is Keefe’s time to show us he’s better than Babcock

One of the biggest reasons the Leafs were dropped by the Bruins in seven in back to back seasons was Mike Babcock’s unwillingness to adjust to the Bruins on a game by game basis, while Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy constantly adjusted whenever the Leafs had the upper hand. It was one of the biggest reasons why Leafs fans wanted Babcock gone after the 2019 series.

And now that the Leafs are down 1-0 in the series, and lost the game because the Blue Jackets forced the Leafs to play their style, it’s Keefe’s opportunity to show us that he can be one of those coaches that adjusts throughout a series, or if he’s going to be like Babcock and stick to his guts.

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He started to prove the former a bit throughout the game, as he did start to go to the Matthews-Tavares-Marner line throughout the game, as well as quickly identifying early on that Clifford-Gauthier-Spezza wasn’t going to be an impact, and only giving them ~3:30 minutes of ice time at even strength.

But, it needs to be more than that. He’s already taken Goat out of the lineup for Engvall, but even changing up the defense would probably help (*has coughing fit while trying to say Cody Ceci*). And not just the lines, but strategies should probably be adjusted as well. The Blue Jackets suffocated the Leafs by clogging up the neutral zone, so the Leafs need to start looking to stretch passes to try and break through it.

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Ignoring the fact that Kappy messed this up, using stretch passes while one of the Leafs’ speedy forwards jumps up (which between Nylander, Marner, Mikheyev, and Kapanen, that shouldn’t be a problem) will probably help open up the play, and get the puck up the ice without trying to skate it through the neutral zone trap that Columbus likes to use, as well as create more odd man rushes, which benefits the Leafs.

As far as the matchups go, I’d like to try and see him switch up the matchups, and try and get Matthews away from Dubois. It’s a matchup that Tavares and Marner should still be able to handle, while you give your best goal scorer and player a better opportunity to do what he does yet. It shouldn’t be too difficult to pull off when he has the last change in Games two and five, but it might be a bit harder to do in Games 3 and 4.

Torts sheltered his weaknesses well

When I was looking at the Blue Jackets roster, the biggest matchup exploits I was looking for was who would play against Werenski-Jones, and who would play against the Jackets middle six group, since Werenski-Jones was actually their weakest pair at driving play at 5v5, while the middle six didn’t have a whole lot to offer to overpower Tavares-Marner or Matthews-Nylander, whichever one didn’t get the Dubois matchup.

But, whether intentional or accidental, Torts did a good job of sheltering his weakest links in this game. He played Werenski-Jones with Dubois and Bjorkstrand, who are Columbus’ best forwards at both ends of the ice, nulling the D pair’s deficiencies, while he had his shutdown pair of Gavrikov-Savard with their second line to null their deficiencies.

That helped for the matchups, as he had Dubois-Bjorkstrand shut down Matthews and Nylander, while he had Gavrikov-Savard out there to shut down Tavares and Marner. If I had one pressing concern for the rest of this series, it’s how the Leafs offense gets around this, but this is one of those times where they prove if they’re worth the high prices they demanded over the past couple years.

All things considered, it wasn’t too bad of a game

While people will blow this game out of proportion because the Leafs were shutout, but it was far from a dominating performance for the Blue Jackets. The possession game was an even 50-50, and the expected goals were only slightly in favour of Columbus at 1.78-1.64. It was a game of bounces, and unfortunately for the Leafs, it wasn’t in their favour.

People will say that the Blue Jackets limited the Leafs chances, but that’s not entirely true.

While the amount of shots taken from that left point is concerning, the Leafs also had a good amount of chances in front of the net, so I’m not too worried about the Leafs generating chances as the series go on.

Another nice takeaway from this is that the Leafs defense actually did a solid job all things considered. It was a case of a stoppable force meeting a movable object, and the movable object didn’t budge, as a majority of the Blue Jackets chances came from the blue line. For a team not built to play hockey like the Blue Jackets, they did a pretty good job of it.

Now, that’s not to say there weren’t problems. While they were fine defensively, I’d like to see more out of Tavares and Marner offensively, as well as a better performance from Nylander to help out Matthews, who had a fine game.

Long story short, this game was a goalie duel that was decided by a goal you wish Freddy would’ve had, but I’m not going to get too mad at him since he kept them in the game otherwise. Play like this in Game 2, and it should hopefully go in our favour. That said…

If someone could lock Cody Ceci’s hockey gear in their hotel room, that’d be great

I’d never wish pain on a person, but if something that didn’t physically harm Ceci were to get in the way of him playing in Game 2, I wouldn’t be mad.