NHL Playoff Series Preview: (1) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (4) Montreal Canadiens

The Toronto Maple Leafs rode impressive metrics to a division crown for the first time since 1999-20. Their North Division banner has earned them a playoff matchup with the Montreal Canadiens for the first time since 1979. The Habs faltered down the stretch, but there’s reason to back the underdogs in the first-round series.

Toronto Maple Leafs Analysis: Strengths Offset by Questionable Metrics

There are plenty of reasons to back the Maple Leafs in the opening round. Toronto finished the regular season with the second-best expected goals percentage in the league across all strengths. The Leafs’ biggest strength was their offensive production metrics. The Leafs attempted the most scoring chances and the most high-danger chances while attempting the sixth most shots. Increased production led to increased output as the Leafs finished the season with the sixth-most goals and second most goals from high-danger areas.

Offensive output didn’t come at the expense of defensive integrity, though, and the Leafs were more responsible defensively than you would expect from an offensively gifted team. They rank in the top half of the league in allowing chances, resulting in some of the best relative metrics in the league. The Leafs were second only to the Colorado Avalanche in high-danger chances percentage and scoring chances percentage this season.

Toronto’s chances of success this postseason are offset by some questionable goaltending and decreased road metrics, though. Toronto goalies finished with the 15th best save percentage, and they appear to be favoring Frederik Andersen for the playoffs, but he has struggled this season. Andersen has posted the worst save percentage and goals saved above average, as per Hockey-Reference.

Road victories were hard to come by for the Leafs to end the season. They dropped six of their final nine road games, posting expected goals-for percentages below 50.0% in five of them. If Montreal steals a game at the Scotiabank Arena, the Leafs could be in trouble.

It’s also hard to overlook Toronto’s recent playoff history, as the Leafs have failed to escape the first round in any of their last five playoff trips.

Montreal Canadiens Analysis: How Far Can Carey Price Carry Them?

The Habs started the season off with some tremendous metrics, ranking in the top-five of most categories to start the season. However, they hit a rough patch and started sliding, resulting in Claude Julien being fired as head coach. Since then, Montreal has failed to get back on track and has had some inconsistent metrics,  but their best efforts continue to come on home ice.

Montreal ended the season by posting expected goals-for percentages above 50.0% in five of their last six games. They have out-possessed five of those six opponents and attempted more scoring chances in all six. It’s also worth noting that the Habs finished the season with an actual goals-for percentage below their expected value and a .986 PDO, which implies that they are due for progression.

Progression will help, but the Canadiens probability of winning this series boils down to how great Carey Price can be. Price has been limited by injuries to end the season, appearing in only two games since April 5. The Habs are planning on having Price back for the postseason, and the Habs will be a tough out if he’s healthy. Price has a 91.7% career playoff save percentage and stopped 93.9% of shots last postseason. We always see the best from Price when games matter the most.

Summary

A hot goaltender can carry a team further than they deserve to go in the NHL playoffs. We’ve seen Price shine on the biggest stages throughout his career, which could cost the Maple Leafs another first round playoff series. If Price can steal a game in Toronto and the Habs get things done on home ice, then the Habs can punch their ticket to the second round of the playoffs.  This line has shifted in favor of the Leafs at FanDuel Sportsbook, creating an even bigger edge on the Habs.

The Bet: Canadiens to Win Series +240