Improvements On Offense Will Be Necessary for Blue Jackets in Advance of Game 3

By Ed Francis on August 5, 2020 at 1:05 pm
Frederik Andersen #31 of the Toronto Maple Leafs stops a shot against Pierre-Luc Dubois #18 of the Columbus Blue Jackets during the second period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Qualification Round prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoff at Scotiabank Arena on August 04, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Andre Ringuette via USA TODAY Sports

So far, the Columbus Blue Jackets have scored on Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen just once.

The lone goal came on a deceptive wrist shot by Cam Atkinson early in the third period of Sunday’s Game 1 victory and is one that Andersen admits he should have made. 

“I made a little mistake,” said Andersen following the first contest. “That cost us a goal and eventually the game.”

RELATED Three Factors That Led To The Blue Jackets Dropping Game 2 To The Maple Leafs

Despite Andersen's mistake, the close game was due in large part to his strong play on a busy night: he faced 35 shots and made several saves that would have been a goal against lesser goalies. 

Andersen was rarely tested in Tuesday’s Game 2 win over the Blue Jackets, though, making just 20 saves and nearly all of them being routine ones. How little was he tested? Despite the shutout, Andersen was left off the Three Stars of the Game. Those went to Auston Matthews and John Tavares, both who scored for Toronto, and to Zach Hyman – who had one assist and won four of six face-offs.

Hardly a performance that would typically get the nod over a postseason shutout, but it’s a statement to how little offense the Blue Jackets were able to muster.

If the season is to last more than the next few days for the Blue Jackets, they’ll need to improve on Toronto’s end of the ice. What can they do to put the puck in the net? It starts with the old adage that "you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take."

Columbus looked far too conservative in Game 2, getting its 10th shot on goal with less than three minutes left in the second period.

The Blue Jackets were able to improve on that in the third, getting as many shots in the period as they were in the first two combined, but it was too late and not enough. While shooting smart is always ideal, a strength for the Blue Jackets is taking advantage of juicy rebounds and getting deflection goals, and those situations are created by getting the puck to the net.

Another key: count on your most skilled scorers.

For Columbus, that’s Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Gus Nyquist, and Pierre-Luc Dubois. In Sunday’s Game 1 victory, Atkinson scored, Bjorkstrand just missed on one, and Dubois was in front of Andersen all night long. Yes, the end result was just one goal, but the Jackets deserved more.

In Game 2, however, those four players combined for just five shots on goal – two of which came with a man advantage for Columbus. Bjorkstrand was left off the shot chart entirely, and Gus Nyquist was only able to get one shot at Andersen, bringing his postseason total to, well, one.

The Blue Jackets need contributions up and down the lineup, of course, but it’s okay to rely on the players we’ve seen do it before, and it will be tough for Columbus to advance without their key players stepping up in what is now a best-of-three series.

It was also announced Wednesday that Toronto defenseman Jake Muzzin will miss the remainder of the series after a scary moment in Tuesday’s game. Thankfully, Muzzin is back at the team hotel, a strong indicator that the injury was not as serious as originally thought. Columbus will need to take advantage of that, as Muzzin notched nearly 40 minutes of ice time in the first two games of the series and was arguably the best defenseman for the Maple Leafs.

If the Blue Jackets can come out looking to outwork a weakened Toronto blueline, they may get just the start they need to retake the series lead. 

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