In one of the most anticipated of all the play-in qualifiers, the Toronto/Columbus Game 1 showdown proved to be a bit of a dud.
Fortunately for the underdog Blue Jackets however, that’s exactly how they liked it.
Columbus were full value on Sunday night, as head coach John Tortorella and his crew of disciplined players completely stifled the high-powered Leafs’ offense. Toronto struggled to generate shots on goal or high quality scoring chances, and much like many suggested – the Leafs were visibility frustrated.
Perhaps no team in the NHL is under more pressure right now than the Leafs. They simply need to get by the Jackets, but Columbus is not a weak opponent. They clearly make up for scoring deficiencies with a rigid structure and a heroic mindset, and their team game is designed to limit the best offenses in the sport, the Leafs included.
Heading into Game 2, much of the focus is on whether or not the Jackets can shut Toronto down once again. Can the Leafs get going in a time they need it most? For that, and more – continue reading on beneath the posted odds as we analyze a crucial Game 2 between the Leafs and Blue Jackets on Tuesday afternoon.
Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets Betting Odds:
Columbus Blue Jackets (+128)
Toronto Maple Leafs (-141)
Over 5.5 (+100)
Under 5.5 (-114)
*Betting odds provided by BetOnline.ag
Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets Pick:
After being one of the NHL’s most explosive offenses, I didn’t think it would take one game for the market to adjust to Columbus’ stifling defense. Posted totals of 5.5 for Leafs games just don’t happen, perhaps an early sign that Game 2 will again take on a defensive approach.
The Leafs played right into the hands of Columbus on Sunday evening, adopting their slow and methodical style of play. It didn’t suit the Leafs, and once they gave up one goal – there’s no way they were breaking down the Jackets’ wall of players through the neutral zone.
While the Leafs talked bravely in their day-off and claimed that they have a higher level they can get to, and how they can be better – their players and coach Sheldon Keefe didn’t really know what went wrong or seemingly how to solve it. If you don’t know how to solve Columbus’ defense, you aren’t going to be able to do it just 48 hours later.
Expect Game 2 to play out eerily similar to Game 1, which should frustrate the Leafs further. Toronto’s attack is skilled and explosive and immensely talented, but it isn’t versatile. It cannot beat you in many different ways. They score nifty goals and beat teams off the rush, two things the Jackets limit so effectively by tight-checking and removing time and space.
It might sound like we’re beating the ‘narrative’ drum a little too loudly here, but this Leafs squad just does not match-up well with the rigid style of the Jackets. Columbus was built to pounce on what the Leafs’ weaknesses are, and it seems ill-advised to trust an overrated Leafs team to solve their issues on such a quick turnaround.
Instead, look for Columbus to actually have more success offensively in this one – as Toronto will no doubt try to panic and deviate from their established game-plan. They have skill, but right now Columbus is by far the better team. At another juicy underdog price, seeing the Blue Jackets at +128 is surprising.
Look for Columbus to again wear down the Leafs’ defense by continually chipping pucks behind them and making them go retrieve. Once there, the Columbus forecheck will take over, leading to way more zone time and offensive chances compared to their Game 1 performance. Expect another frustrating outing for the high-powered Leafs.
Pick: Columbus 4-1