Toronto brings the heat, and Columbus will need to be ready.
During the regular season, the Toronto Maple Leafs had the second-most goals scored in the NHL and the sixth-best power play. Needless to say, they can score at will, and any opponent will need to be ready.
Their next opponent is our Columbus Blue Jackets, who have the league's fourth-worst scoring total and fifth-worst power play. This means they won't be fighting fire with fire this postseason. They will need to lean on their defense to squeak out some one-goal victories.
An area of importance in utilizing this defensive strategy will be on the penalty kill. The Blue Jackets' good PK unit will need to become great to withstand the onslaught from players like Auston Matthew, John Tavares and Mitch Marner.
So, who should be sent out to shut down Toronto's stars?
Defense: Vladislav Gavrikov, Seth Jones
The top penalty kill unit towards the end of the regular season for the Blue Jackets featured Scott Harrington and Zach Werenski. This is not okay - for a few reasons, really. If Harrington is in the lineup, he's likely the worst defenseman on the bench (unless Gabriel Carlsson is someone up at the same time) and therefore should not be on any penalty kill unit, let alone the top pair. Werenski is more so valuable on the other end of the ice and can get out of position defensively a bit too much to be anchoring a PK unit.
Let's give Seth Jones, a top-five defenseman in the league and an absolute bruiser, a chance with the rock-solid Vladislav Gavrikov. These two big bodies can take care of the top Leaf's power play which sees Matthews, Marner and Tavares and let the second unit handle William Nylander and company, which is far less of a threat.
Forwards: Cam Atkinson, Riley Nash
Don't laugh. Riley Nash really is an excellent defender. He leads the team in the least amount of giveaways and has the highest team on-ice save percentage (for those who have played more than 40 games). He's also top-ten in defensive point shares and blocked shots, seventh in hits and eighth in takeaways. This while getting just under 12 minutes a game of ice time, meaning he's doing a lot of good defensively in the short time he's out there.
Atkinson is a no-brainer. He's one of the quickest players on the team and is only two goals behind Rick Nash for the most short-handed goals in club history. He's been a staple on the PK unit and should stay there.
Defense: Ryan Murray, David Savard
I still don't see a need to put Werenski on this second unit. One, because as mentioned, he's not the best defender, and two, that just means back-to-back full minutes where Jones and Werenski are on the ice. This wouldn't be a wise move to exhaust those two stars for a full two minutes and then leave Scott Harrington and/or Dean Kukan to hold down the fort while they rest. Murray and Savard are smart, active defenders who fit well in penalty kill situations - Murray with his IQ and Savard with his constant laying down to block passing lanes. It's a match made in heaven.
Forwards: Gustav Nyquist, Liam Foudy
After Atkinson, these two might be the next quickest players on the ice for Columbus, and therefore have as much of a reason as anyone to round out the penalty kill unit for the forward group. If Foudy makes the postseason lineup for the Blue Jackets, this would be a great way to get him ice time in a spot that plays to his strength of speed and agility.
However - I'd make sure that Foudy would only be on the ice versus the second power play unit for Toronto, not against the star-studded first unit. In the case that the Maple Leafs' first unit stays on the ice after a whistle but the Blue Jackets need to take their first PK unit off, I'd swap in Alexander Wennberg for Foudy. Experience would beat quickness in a time like that.
Who would be on your penalty kill units to face the star-studded Maple Leafs?
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