The Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets will begin their best-of-five qualifying round series at Scotiabank Arena on Sunday night, a matchup that pits one of the best offenses in the NHL against a club that is adept at playing structured defensively and limiting their opposition’s scoring chances.
The Leafs have been working on their play in the defensive zone since the start of training camp, but it will take a significant improvement from the same personnel that allowed 227 goals against (27th in the NHL) to be effective against a Blue Jackets club adept at cycling the puck and possessing the puck.
"(Columbus) really likes to generate a lot from below the goal line, giving it out in front of the slot, and jamming pucks in." Leafs winger Mitch Marner said on Sunday. "As a five-man group on the ice, we've got to make sure we're staying tight with each other, talk to each other. When we do get the chance to exit, we do it cleanly. You don't want to be playing a chip and chase kind of game against this team, we want to have a puck in our hands and try and make sure that we're dictating what's going on."
Toronto will go with the same line combinations and defense pairings that have skated together in practice this week, including rookie Nick Robertson making his NHL debut on the 3rd line with Alex Kerfoot and Kasperi Kapanen.
Columbus head coach John Tortorella will have an untested rookie of his own in the lineup, as 20-year-old Liam Foudy will play in only his third NHL game and announced that Joonas Korpisalo will get the Game 1 start over rookie Elvis Merzlikins.
The Leafs have to take advantage of their strength up the middle with Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Alex Kerfoot, and the speed of Marner, William Nylander, Ilya Mikheyev and Kasperi Kapanen to break through the Blue Jackets tight-checking defensive game plan, but they often get frustrated when dealing with clubs that deny them the ability to create scoring chances.
If Columbus succeeds and the games are low scoring, the series will likely come down to Toronto’s power-play being able to convert on the few man advantages they get and Andersen playing at his best.
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