Toronto Maple Leafs vs Columbus Blue Jackets NHL Series Odds and Expert Predictions
This series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets figures to be one of the most-watched play-in series the NHL has to offer. On one side of the coin, you have the Blue Jackets, who were in a battle for a wild-card spot before the league shut down, and then you have the Leafs, who were three points up on the Panthers for the final divisional spot in the Atlantic. Both of these teams have to like their chances of winning this round and advancing, but only one can do so.
What does Vegas think? Well, they’ve pegged the Leafs as -160 series favorites and -150 to win Game 1. If you think the Buds can do the unthinkable and end the Stanley Cup drought, you can grab them at +1800 to do so. If you like the Jackets’ chances of pulling off five upsets on way to glory, they are priced at +7000.
The goal for these preview pieces is to help inform you/remind you which team has the edge on both ends of the rink. I fully acknowledge the fact that because of the weird circumstances and the whole “bubble” thing with no real home-ice advantage, the stats before the lockdown and after the restart may not look similar at all. Teams will be rusty, and I expect teams to be a bit cautious as to how they attack the play-in round as they know one bad game could be the end of the line for them.
Goaltending & Defence
The Columbus Blue Jackets had a pretty tough go of it early on in the season as they were just ravaged with injuries throughout the lineup. It also didn’t help the cause that their No. 1 goalie from last season switched teams, forcing them to rely on two relatively unknown goalies in Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis (yes, Elvis) Merzlikins. The latter of the two figures to get the start in Game 1 of the series, and he’s earned the right to do so. Merzlikins owns a 13-9-8 record with a 2.35 GAA, a .923 save percentage, and five shutouts. The Jackets play such a suffocating brand of hockey that they give teams very little to work with. They ranked third in goals allowed per game (2.61), and seventh in shots on goal allowed (29.9). It will be interesting to see if they can dictate the way the game is going to be played against a fast and highly skilled Maple Leafs team.
As for the Leafs, we know who they are as a team, and that’s not a very good defensive one. They have their moments, but for the most part they are good for one or two bone-head defensive plays per game. They need to get that figured out in a hurry as one mistake could cost them the series. The Leafs rank 25th in goals allowed (3.17) and 19th in shows allowed per game (31.9). The defensive core leaves a lot to be desired, and it’ll be up to Frederik Andersen to shut the door. Andersen owns a 29-13-7 record on the season with a 2.85 GAA and a .909 save percentage. If Freddy plays like the top-level goalie he is, the Leafs offense should be able to do just enough to get them past Columbus. If the defensive struggles continue and Andersen is average, the Jackets may prove too tough an opponent to crack.
Offense & Special Teams
To say the Blue Jackets are offensively challenged would be an understatement. The team ranks 27th in goals per game at 2.57, 8th in shots on goal at 32.5 and 29th in shooting percentage at just 7.9 percent. Their top player, Pierre-Luc Dubois, has just 49 points (18g/31a). To put that into perspective a little bit, Toronto’s top scorer, Auston Matthews, has 47 goals. If the Jackets can’t slow the games down and frustrate the Leafs, the Jackets will get run out of the building by the younger, quicker, and more skilled Maple Leafs. I would let you know about the Jackets’ special teams, but they are far from special. As you can imagine, a lack of goals means very little power play success (ranked 27th), but the PK is respectable at 12th overall.
As for the Leafs, we know all about their individual skill and talent, but it’ll be interesting to see how they react if the going gets tough. The Leafs have scorers and game-changers on every line, led by Auston Matthews (47G, 33A). Mitch Marner (67 points), John Tavares (60 points), and William Nylander (59 points) are the supporting cast, and big things are expected from that quartet. As a team, the Leafs rank third in goals per game (3.39), sixth in shots on goal (32.9), sixth on the power play (23.1 percent), and ninth in shooting percentage (10.3).
Leafs Nation has waited a very long time for their team to win a playoff series. Does this count as a playoff series? Officially, yes, but the feeling of winning a play-in series in a weird year means the Leafs have to do more than just sneak by the Jackets. They have to beat them thoroughly, and they have to beat them in three or four games. The Leafs are the far superior team, so we’ll bank on their top guys outscoring the Jackets’ top guys.
Pick: Leafs in four.
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