Toronto Maple Leafs hockey is officially back with Game 1 of their play-in series taking place in Toronto on Sunday night. While it’s the first meaningful hockey either team has played in months, both clubs seemed to be in midseason form with the Columbus Blue Jackets taking home a 2-0 victory to open up their 2020 playoffs.
The win puts the Blue Jackets within two wins of moving on and the Maple Leafs just two losses away from another early round exit from the playoffs in recent years. With that in mind, here’s what can be taken away from the Maple Leafs’ Game 1 loss at the hands of the Blue Jackets.
Seth Jones’ Dominant Physicality
As has been the case in the past, the smaller Maple Leafs were pushed around early in this contest with Blue Jackets’ defenceman Seth Jones being the main culprit. Jones had a number of battles in the Columbus end with both Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman and came out on the better end of most of them.
Overall, Jones led the Blue Jackets with seven hits in the game – three more than any Maple Leafs player had – and he dominated the smaller Leafs’ forwards from a physical standpoint.
In past years, the physicality has been an issue for the Maple Leafs and through the first game seems to be again in 2020. The Blue Jackets out-hit the Maple Leafs 37 to 26 in the game and it made it tough for the Maple Leafs to find opportunities in the offensive zone.
Joonas Korpisalo Stumps Maple Leafs
It was the playoff debut for Blue Jackets’ goaltender Joonas Korpisalo on Sunday and the 26-year-old Finn didn’t disappoint for his squad making 28 saves on 28 shots and locking up a shutout in his first postseason start.
Granted he had some help from the players in front of him who blocked 18 shots fired in his direction, Korpisalo held the Maple Leafs at bay stopping five high-danger scoring chances and four medium-danger opportunities, according to Natural Stat Trick.
“I felt pretty confident from the get-go today and I think the boys played really good in front of me, battling for me to see the puck,” said Korpisalo following the shutout. “That was awesome. That was fun today.”
It’s safe to say that Korpisalo will get the call for Game 2 when the Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs get back at it.
Robertson’s Early Opportunities
While Korpisalo got his first taste of playoff hockey, Nicholas Robertson got his first taste of NHL hockey in a game that really mattered. The 18-year-old played 12:28 in his NHL debut and finished with a shot on goal, two takeaways and two hits.
Robertson also had a quality opportunity early on in the game that forced Korpisalo to come up with a big pad safe right in front of the Blue Jackets’ net. In fact, Robertson had two high-danger opportunities, including that chance and didn’t shy away from any of the physical play during his time on the ice.
Whether he gets the start in the next game or not, he certainly made a case for getting back into the lineup for Game 2 for the Maple Leafs.
Andersen Dialed In
It wasn’t just Korpisalo that came up big in Game 1. In talking about goaltenders, Frederik Andersen also had a solid start for the Maple Leafs at their end of the ice, giving up just one goal on 35 shots for a .971 save percentage to open up the series.
Like Korpisalo, Andersen came up with five high-danger saves and it was the one goal (plus the empty-netter) that was the difference in this game.
While the Maple Leafs won’t be able to lean on Andersen to solely get it done in these playoffs, it was a good sign to see Andersen get a good game under his belt considering he has been considered a perennial slow starter over the duration of his career.
Defence Over Skill Proves True
All the talk coming into this series was the Maple Leafs’ offensive skill versus the Blue Jackets’ defensive dominance and which one would prevail. While the Maple Leafs were able to keep up on the defensive end of the puck for most of the game, the Blue Jackets stuck to their game plan and took advantage of the few opportunities they were given.
The Maple Leafs’ forward crew has the ability to take over any game at any point, but as soon as the Blue Jackets tallied the first goal of the game in the third period, they shut it down and played a zone-type trap that locked up the neutral zone.
Without being able to enter the offensive zone cleanly, the Maple Leafs’ forwards weren’t able to set up and play the game they are so well known for. In fact, the Maple Leafs have zero shots in the final six minutes of the game. Ultimately, defensive dominance prevailed in Game 1 for the Blue Jackets.
Also Worth Noting…
The Blue Jackets’ young guns, Eric Robinson and Liam Foudy looked good in their playoff debuts. Foudy had two shots and a hit in 13:19, while Robinson had two shots a hit and a blocked shot in 9:32 of ice time.
Matthews played a team-high 24:38 in Game 1, just over two minutes more than Morgan Rielly who finished second on the team in ice-time.
The Maple Leafs dominated the face-off dot, winning 58 percent of the draws. Unfortunately that didn’t translate to offensive production for the boys in blue and white.
It’s also worth mentioning that Matthews had a message to send to reporter Steve Simmons following the loss. Simmons, who was the reporter that revealed Matthews’ positive diagnosis for COVID-19, asked the Maple Leafs’ star a question and Matthews responded by saying that he felt Simmons reporting of his diagnosis was both unethical and unappreciated.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.