The Blue Jackets Will Need to Embrace Their Strengths in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

By Jacob Nitzberg on June 26, 2020 at 8:05 am
Jan 9, 2020; San Jose, California, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Nick Foligno (71) and defenseman Zach Werenski (8) and defenseman Seth Jones (3) react during the third period against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center at San Jose.
Cody Glenn-USA TODAY Sports

The differences between last year's Blue Jackets squad and this year's are night and day.

The 2018-19 team won with skill and offensive onslaughts in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the 19-20 version won't be able to solely rely on their offensive capabilities. With Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and a healthy Josh Anderson, last year's Blue Jackets were capable of offensive explosions.

However, the 19-20 Blue Jackets are much better defensively, and they've had to be, due to several injuries throughout the season. Even when Seth Jones and Ryan Murray were out injured, the blue line stepped up in a big way and kept the Blue Jackets in the hunt for a playoff spot.

In 70 regular season games, the Blue Jackets gave up 187 goals, good for 3rd in the NHL. Their 2.67 goals allowed per game is also third in the NHL, tied with Arizona. With Elvis Merzlikins likely starting, and Joonas Korpisalo as a solid backup, the Blue Jackets are in good shape when it comes to goaltending. Merzlikins was fifth in the NHL in both save percentage (.923, minimum 20 games played) and goals allowed per game (2.35). 

It's clear where the strengths of this team lie, but just offense or defense alone can only get you so far. Although the Blue Jackets will certainly rely on their blue line and goaltending, they'll have to find the back of the net at some point as well. 

In several games this year, the Blue Jackets would get hemmed into their own zone and face chance after chance. Due to the talented blue line and goaltending, more times than not, they were able to escape thanks to a big save or blocked shot. They can ill-afford to get stuck in their own zone against the Maple Leafs, who have incredible offensive talent. 

Matchup-wise, the Blue Jackets don't stack up to the Maple Leafs offensively. Despite outshooting their opponents by 9.2% (2271-2092) this season, the Blue Jackets were unable to consistently capitalize on their scoring chances. However, if the Blue Jackets are able to limit high-danger chances and produce controlled defensive zone exits, they'll be in business. 

In order for them to take down the Maple Leafs in the qualifying round, they'll need to build off of their defensive strengths, and work from there. As we've seen during his tenure in Columbus, John Tortorella harps on blocking shots, blocking passing lanes, and forechecking with conviction. This year's Blue Jackets can do those three things very well, and it's why they find themselves in the Stanley Cup Playoffs despite their offensive struggles.

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