NHL Play-In Round Betting: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
After a long layoff, the NHL is back with a unique format to decide the teams that will be getting into the playoffs this year. There are eight best-of-five series that will get us down to 16 teams and the traditional format we've become used to over the past few seasons in the NHL.
Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets
Since the blockbuster signing of John Tavares in 2018, the Leafs have had the goal of being Stanley Cup contenders. Unfortunately for them, a tough division and difficulty managing the salary cap has limited them to three straight first-round playoff exits.
That could have easily been the case again this season, as they were set up to play against a juggernaut in the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs. The Leafs played an up-tempo brand of hockey, being third in the league in goals scored while allowing the fifth-most. That's the complete opposite to their defensively stellar opponents in this series.
The Blue Jackets were not expected to compete this season after losing some important players in free agency. They then had the most man games lost due to injury in the NHL this campaign. So how were they able to stay within striking distance until the season was paused?
They've been defending quite well, allowing the second-fewest high danger chances against per 60 minutes, according to Natural Stat Trick. When they did allow shots, they were getting the goaltending they needed to win games. Their team save percentage was the seventh-best in the league. This has lead to them allowing the co-third-fewest goals in the league. They've struggled to score, though, but with some players returning, that could change things.
Columbus will be getting leading goal scorer Oliver Bjorkstrand back in the lineup after he had missed a few games just before the shutdown. Last year's leading goal scorer Cam Atkinson was struggling with injuries during the season and was able to pot only 12 goals in 44 games. These two being healthy and able to play could change the style that the Jackets have been playing this season.
As for the Leafs, top defenseman Morgan Rielly returned from a nearly two-month layoff for just one game before the lockdown. Other than that, Ilya Mikheyev came back from a long-term injury, and they added young prospect Nick Robertson to the lineup. Overall, the layoff seems to have helped the Blue Jackets more than Toronto as they only have Josh Anderson left on their injured reserve after previously having several players on there.
If we dive deep into the numbers, these teams actually grade out similarly.
Taking a look at five-on-five score adjusted numbers, these teams are 10th and 11th in expected goals for percentage. They also both have a .997 PDO, with the Leafs being more driven by shooting percentage and the Jackets being supported by their good save percentage. These teams finished with the exact same amount of points in the same number of games played, but they arrived there in different ways. The Jackets earned a point for an overtime loss 15 times, something that they won't be able to do in this play-in round.
How to Bet the Series
This looks to be a close series based on the play from earlier in the season, but the odds clearly favor Toronto. They are currently sitting as a -182 favorite on FanDuel Sportsbook. This comes close to matching up with numberFire's simulations of the series, which give the Leafs about a 60% chance of moving on.
Looking at our Team Power Rankings, Toronto is in 11th while Columbus is all the way down in 22nd, the third-worst team to qualify for the postseason. Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic has the Leafs winning the series 65% of the time, meaning there would be slight value betting on them at the current price.
The series price is close to being efficient, but if you want to have some action on one of the sides, Toronto would be the play.