Hockey is back on tap and in a big way, which means there’s a lot to cover in a relatively short period of time. It’s time to get on with the show and sum up the Stanley Cup Playoffs Qualifying Round matchups.
Up next, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets.
These two squads will face off for their first game Sunday and they enter the series with 81 points apiece after the condensed regular season. They are different altogether on the ice, however. The Blue Jackets win tight games, leading the NHL in one-goal wins.
Toronto pushes volume and pace. They score at an elite level, with one of the best offensive groups in the league and the sixth-best power play. And they’ve got a coach in Sheldon Keefe that will let the offence rain down, good news for the likes of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner.
When you juxtapose that with the Blue Jackets, who’ve seen more players walk than they’d like to remember, you’ve got an interesting series. Columbus competes without goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and goal-scorer Artemi Panarin, but they have a blue-collar unit that responds well to head coach John Tortorella.
If you’re one for coaching duels, this series has that. Tortorella and Keefe have history in that the former coached the latter in Tampa Bay. Keefe praises Torts for his coaching prowess, but the two took to the break with a different mindset. Tortorella left the video room dark, as reports indicated, while Keefe immersed himself in game film. We’ll see which approach pays off.
For Tortorella’s Blue Jackets, it’s about dirty work. For Keefe’s Maple Leafs, it’s about horsepower. Toronto will come out guns blazing, and you’ve got to imagine that they’ll smash headlong into Columbus’ systemic approach. And since defence (and goaltending) wins championships, you might have a taster as to the result.
Toronto’s D could be an issue. They’re in the top half of the NHL in shot-attempt suppression, which is good. But they’re in the bottom half when it comes to stifling scoring chances and high danger attempts at even strength, putting a lot of pressure on the goaltending. Frederik Andersen did not have the best season – and that’s putting it mildly.
This is a classic showdown. Through the five games of this Qualifying Round series, it’ll be offence versus defence, a dominant power play versus a quality penalty kill, Tortorella versus Keefe. May the best team win.