It's finally here.
After a 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins in their only exhibition game, the Columbus Blue Jackets are onto the qualifying round to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in a best-of-five series. Without further ado, here are three things from the win:
Tortorella Decision Looms Large
Let's just get straight to the point. Joonas Korpisalo got the start and was excellent, pitching a shutout through his half of the game. As planned, Elvis Merzlikins came on in relief and was solid in his own right, stopping 10/11 shots he faced.
Goalies— 1st Ohio Battery (@1stOhioBattery) July 31, 2020
Joonas Korpisalo: 11/11 SV (1.000), 29:51
Elvis Merzlikins: 10/11 SV (.923), 30:06
David Pastrnak, one of the top scorers in the NHL, was the only player to solve either Blue Jackets' netminder.
All eyes are now on John Tortorella, who has said he will let both of his goalies know which one is going to start on the day before Game 1. Who starts is now anyone's guess, as both goalies showed well in the exhibition game.
But just because one starts Game 1 does not indicate that Tortorella will stick with that goaltender throughout. As he said on 97.1 on Wednesday:
“I really feel, in a five-game series, both will probably play. I just have a funny feeling that’s how it’s going to work. I’m not going to hesitate to do that if need be.”
Regardless of who gets the nod, it's a situation worth monitoring.
Offense Concerns Quelled (For Now)
Look, I'm not going to read too closely into one semi-meaningless exhibition game, but it is noteworthy that the Blue Jackets, who finished t-27th in the NHL in goals/game, popped in three goals in the first period against the Bruins stout defense and goaltending.
Columbus did its damage in bunches, scoring two goals in just 16 seconds late in the first period.
There were plenty of encouraging signs for a team that struggles to find consistent offense. Liam Foudy looked comfortable and found Boone Jenner to open the scoring. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Seth Jones, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Gus Nyquist connected on a beautiful power-play goal that saw the unit go coast-to-coast on tic-tac-toe passing. Zach Werenski picked off where he left off. His 20 goals led all NHL defensemen at the pause, and he wasted no time lighting the lamp. Nick Foligno and Cam Atkinson seemed comfortable together, though they didn't connect on any goals.
Much of the narrative leading up to the qualifying round series with the Maple Leafs has centered around how the Blue Jackets lack the firepower to match Toronto. While that still remains true, it's encouraging to see that (as was often the case this season) when push came to shove, Columbus finds a way to find results.
On To The Maple Leafs
After what feels like years of speculation, we've finally made it to the knockout stage. Both the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets looked great in their lone exhibition game, but who knows what (if anything) that will mean when the games matter.
The Blue Jackets are healthy, confident, and face much less pressure than their opponents. The Maple Leafs are the favorites by every metric from Vegas to The Athletic's models and everything in between. That's perfect for Tortorella, who relishes a team with the underdog mentality. Let's drop the puck.