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2020 Play-In Series, Columbus Blue Jackets vs Toronto Maple Leafs: Goaltending Preview

Frederik Andersen will get the start in net for the Maple Leafs. Who will he face in game one?

Columbus Blue Jackets v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

On Sunday evening, at 8:00 EST, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs will resume their seasons, facing off in game one of their best-of-five play-in series for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff. After previewing the defensive matchups on Tuesday and the forward matchups on Wednesday, today we will be examining the goaltending matchups between the two teams.

Let’s dive in.

Toronto’s goaltending situation

Unlike the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Toronto Maple Leafs have an unquestioned number one in net. Frederik Andersen started 52 of the Leafs’ 70 games this season, and has started at least 60 games in each of the three previous seasons. Andersen has won a William Jennings trophy in 2015-16 (shared with John Gibson), an annual award given to the goalkeeper(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it. Andersen finished fourth in Vezina Trophy voting in 2017-18 and 10th in 2018-19, establishing his track record as one of the most reliable goaltenders in the NHL.

Since arriving in Toronto, here is how Anderson has performed (stats via hockey-reference):

This season, as you can see, Andersen’s form dipped. His .909 save percentage ranked 31st in the NHL among goaltenders that played more than 20 games, while his 2.85 goals allowed was 35th among goaltenders who played more than 20 games this season. Andersen was not helped by the middling Toronto defense as the Leafs ranked just 27th in the league in goals against this season (227 allowed).

Andersen went 1-1 against Columbus this season. In the first matchup on October 4, a 4-1 Leafs win, Andersen made 28 saves on 29 shots en route to an easy road win. The second matchup saw Andersen play less well - he allowed four goals as the Leafs fell 4-3 in overtime. You might remember this as Gustav Nyquist’s overtime penalty shot.

Andersen and the Leafs have not faced the Blue Jackets under new head coach Sheldon Keefe yet (the final matchup was cancelled due to the COVID-19 shutdown in March).

Should Andersen get hooked (or go down With an injury), his backup is Michael Hutchinson. Hutchinson played 15 games for the Leafs this season and notched a 4-9-1 record with an .886 save percentage and 3.66 goals against average.

Author’s note: whoops, I screwed up. Michael Hutchinson was traded in February. The backup for the Leafs is now Jack Campbell, who played six games for the Leafs with a 3-2-1 record, a .915 save percentage, and a 2.63 goals against average. The point still remains that, if Jack Campbell plays, either through injury or performance issues, the Leafs are probably sunk anyway. The author regrets the error.

In all likelihood, though, the fate of the Leafs goaltending will rise or fall on Andersen’s shoulders.

Columbus’ goaltending situation

As detailed in our preview earlier this month, Columbus has two goaltenders who could plausibly start in this series: Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. A brief rundown of the case for each.

Korpisalo: he was rusty when he returned, but when he was on his game, he was one of the two best goaltenders in the Metropolitain Division by statistics pre-All Star Break. He was the starter on opening night and the old adage says that you cannot lose your job due to injury.

Merzlikins: he had an eight game winning streak even as the team wasn’t scoring goals, he has big game experience in the World Championships while playing for Latvia as well as playoff games in Switzerland’s top pro league, and posted the better numbers for the team across the board.

To date, head coach John Tortorella has not named a starting goaltender for game one . Tonight (Thursday) is the team’s lone exhibition game against the Boston Bruins and both goaltenders will likely see time as a final tune-up before game one. This is their final opportunity in game action to force head coach John Tortorella to give them the net to start the play-in round.

The Jackets also brought Matiss Kivlenieks to the bubble, likely as an injury insurance and a practice body. Kivlenieks split time between the NHL and AHL this season as both starting goaltenders on the big club were hurt at various points this season. In the AHL with the Cleveland Monsters, Kivlenieks played 20 games and registered a 2.96 GAA with a .904 SV%. With the Blue Jackets, Kivlenieks posted a 2.95 GAA and an .898 SV%.

Final thoughts

While the Leafs have a known quality in net, the Blue Jackets are something of a question mark. Frederik Anderson is 8-11 with Toronto in his NHL career, posting a .911 save percentage and a 3.04 goals against average. Neither Elvis Merzlikins nor Joonas Korpisalo have started an NHL playoff game in their career. Whichever does get the start, however, will be asked to carry a heavier load than Andersen does due to the offensive limitations of the forwards in front of them.

Can either goaltender recapture the magic from the middle of the season? We are days away from finding out.