Blue Jackets vs Maple Leafs - NHL Qualifying Round Preview & Prediction
As we continue to inch closer to the restart of the NHL season, I will continue to preview the Qualifying Round of the playoffs. I am so looking forward to the restart of the season, which will go straight to the playoffs as the NHL has decided to scrap the rest of the regular season.
Here are other the previews I have done so far:
The NHL playoffs will have 24 teams in it with the 16 of those teams playing in eight best-of-five Qualifying round matchups. The Top four teams in each conference will then square off against each other in a round-robin style format to determine the seeding of those four teams. The four teams from the West that win their Qualifying Matchup will face the top four teams in that conference and the same for the East. The Western Conference playoffs will take play in one hub city and the Eastern Conference will do the same. The hub cities have not yet been announced.
Right now, I will look at the matchup between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs are favored to win the series at -160 while the Blue Jackets come in at +140.
A Look At the Blue Jackets
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Blue Jackets are 28th in scoring at 2.57 gpg, 8th in shots per game at 32.5, and 27th in powerplay conversions at 16.4%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 4th in goals allowed at 2.61 gpg, 7th in shots allowed at 29.9 spg, and 12th in penalty kill at 81.7%.
The Blue Jackets were clearly saved by the bell or the pause as the case may be. This is a team that finished 9th in the Eastern Conference and had the regular season played out to the full, they could have missed the postseason. Columbus was not out of it when the season stopped but they were heading in the wrong direction, having lost 12 of their final 15 games. The offense has been a mess all year and they averaged just 2.18 gpg over their final 17 games. That is well below the 2.57 gpg that the Jackets have averaged for the year. The offense will need to play much better here as they are taking on a high-scoring team. Leading the team in points has been Pierre-Luc Dubois with 49 while Gustav Nyqvist is 2nd with 42 and Zach Werenski is 3rd with 41. Oliver Bjorkstrand leads the team in goals with 21 while Werenski is 2nd with 20 and Dubois is 3rd with 18.
From January 11th to February 7th, the Blue Jackets won nine of 10 games and they allowed a total of 11 goals over that stretch, posting five shutouts in the process. In their final 15 games of the season, they allowed 3.33 gpg in going 3-12. Columbus needs to get their goaltending back on track in this one but it will not be easy against the talented offense of the Leafs. Joonas Korpisalo played in 37 games this year and he was 19-19 with a 2.60 GAA on the year, including 6-7 with a 2.73 GAA away from home. In his career, he has gone 5-3 with a 2.87 GAA against the Maple Leafs. We could see more of Elvis Merzlikins after he played in 33 games this year. The rookie went 13-17 with a 2.35 GAA on the year overall, including 6-11 with a 2.91 GAA on the road. He has never faced the Leafs. Neither goalie has played in the playoffs in their careers.
A Look At The Toronto Maple Leafs
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Blue Jackets are 3rd in scoring at 3.39 gpg, 6th in shots per game at 32.9, and 6th in powerplay conversions at 23.1%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 26th in goals allowed at 3.17 gpg, 19th in shots allowed at 31.9 spg, and 21st in penalty kill at 77.7%.
This was supposed to be the year of the Maple Leafs. They have been building up their team over the last few years and this was supposed to be the year that they became a series threat in the Eastern Conference. It didn’t happen as planned as Toronto finished the regular season in 8th place in the East. Toronto did not have a strong finish to the season as they were just 8-10 over their final 18 games. The offense has led them all season but it did not show up a whole lot in their last 4 games as they scored a total of just five goals over that stretch. Toronto scored a total of 13 in their last seven losses, compared to hanging up 31 goals over their last eight wins. If this offense gets going again then they could make this a short series over the punchless Blue Jackets. Auston Matthews led the team in goals with 47 and he has now scored at least 34 goals in each of his first four seasons in the league. 2nd in goals was William Nylander, who had 31 while 3rd was John Tavares with 26. Matthews led the team in points with 80 while Mitchel Marner had 67 and Tavares had 60.
The problem for the Leafs this year was their play in the crease as they ranked 26th in the league in goals allowed. It has led to many high scoring games for the Leafs and we note that their games went 39-29-2 to the Over. Frederik Anderson had a solid season for the Leafs this year as he went 29-20 with a 2.85 GAA in 52 games this year, including 16-7 with a 2.65 GAA away from home. In his career, he has gone 6-5 with a 2.79 GAA against the Blue Jackets and he has gone 17-9 with a 2.34 GAA during the postseason. Toronto ran into problems this year when Michael Hutchinson came in as he was 4-10 with a 3.66 GAA in 15 games played. The good news is that Hutchinson is now with Colorado and the Leafs have added Jason Campbell, who went 3-3 with a 2.63 GAA for them. Campbell has no playoff experience and he has gone 1-1 with aa 1.99 GAA against the Blue Jackets in his career.
The Columbus Blue Jackets really had a rough end to their regular season but we do note that it was over three months since they last played. Still, this is a team that has very little in the way of offense and no experience in the crease when it comes to postseason play. The Toronto Maple Leafs did not have the regular season that many expected them to have but they are still the much better team in this series. They have a far better offense and Frederik Andersen is 17-9 with 2.34 GAA in his career in the postseason. Toronto will use the long break to rejuvenate themselves for what should be a nice playoff run. They are just too talented to lose to the Blue Jackets in this series. I see the Maple Leafs winning the series 3-1.