Cam Atkinson Has Chance for Breakout Scoring Performance Against Maple Leafs

By Chris Pennington on July 27, 2020 at 8:20 am
Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Cam Atkinson (13) skates on the ice prior to the game against the Buffalo Sabres at Nationwide Arena.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The cure for a scoring slump? Play the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In less than a week, the Columbus Blue Jackets travel to Scotiabank Arena to take on the team who holds its home games in said barn. The Maple Leafs, boasters of one of the best offenses in the league, are surely a force to be reckoned with on the score sheet. 

Thanks to the help of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares and William Nylander, as well as a fairly deep bottom-six, Toronto can score almost whenever they want. Their offense was humming this past regular season, ranking third in the league in goals scored and sixth in power play percentage.

But, there’s a catch. While they light the lamp nearly as much as any team in the league, they also give up nearly as many goals as any team in the league (fifth-most allowed in 2019-2020).

It’s a bold strategy that has yet to pay off - and looks grim against a defensive-minded team like Columbus. Not only that, but the Blue Jackets are now nearly fully healthy, and will return some players who can look to make a dent in that weak defensive unit of Toronto.

The headliner of those fully healthy players is all-star winger Cam Atkinson, who has more career goals than anyone on the Blue Jackets and is tied for the team record for most goals scored in a season. 

There are two problems at the moment, though. This past regular season, Atkinson was having his worst goal-scoring efficiency campaign since 2013-2014. His 12 goals in 44 games is a shadow of his 41 goals in 80 games a year ago, even with his injury taken into account.

Also, Atkinson hasn’t necessarily carried over his historical scoring success to the postseason. In 21 postseason games since 2016-2017, Atkinson has put up just six goals, good for 0.29 goals per game. In his regular-season career since 2016-2017, though, the 31-year-old operates at 0.41 goals per game pace (112 in 271 games played).

This isn’t the largest difference in the world, but for a player that is known for his scoring and has at least 20-plus goals per year since 2013 before this year, especially 41 a year ago (0.51 goals per game, and then two goals in ten playoff games (0.20 goals per game)), it’s something to take note of.

There are a few theories here. One being that Atkinson’s game may not be necessarily built for postseason hockey. Atkinson is an incredible east-west style skater who is an elite finisher with the puck, but in the playoffs, you need forwards who can skate the puck north-south on their own, as opposing forecheck are much more aggressive. Also, his smaller stature certainly isn’t an advantage in the more physical postseason environment.

Now, let’s say it’s a mental game instead. Former club goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was (and is) the only netminder in the league with multiple Vezina trophies under his belt, but for many years was a postseason liability. It wasn’t until the Tampa Bay Lightning series last year that Bobrovsky looked like a truly elite goalie, and had his first game of allowing under three goals in his postseason career. This could be the same for Atkinson.

Nevertheless, here’s a simple reality. Atkinson needs to ignite his scoring prowess in the playoffs. The Maple Leafs are awful at keeping the puck out of the net. The scene is set for Atkinson to score a hat trick on Sunday, no?

Well, it may not be that simple, but it’s surely a good situation for the assistant captain. He needs scoring confidence, and the Maple Leafs are good at letting that happen for many players.

Atkinson leads a Columbus offense that was one of the worst in the NHL in scoring this year, and his leadership and scoring will definitely he needed to advance to the next round. Will he step up and change his playoff history?

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