NHL Playoff preview: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens


(Via NHL.com)

By: Corrado Distefano


The Stanley Cup playoffs are already in full swing, with most series already completing two or more games. However, because of a few make-up games for the Vancouver Canucks (who missed about a month due to COVID-19), the two North Division series don’t start until Wednesday and Thursday. For the first time since 1979, we will see the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens face off in the playoffs.



Offense

There’s isn’t much explaining to do when it comes to the offensive fire power of the of the Maple Leafs. Leading the way was Auston Matthews scoring 41 goals in 52 games, but Mitch Marner did lead the team in points with 67 in 55 games.


John Tavares and William Nylander also has respectable season, with 50 points in 56 games for Tavares and 42 points in 51 games for Nylander. The Leafs also have many secondary and depth options heading into game one. Trade Deadline acquisition Nick Foligno has four assists in seven games since joining the team.


Zach Hyman has had another solid year scoring 33 points in 43 games. He has missed time in the latter part of the season, but he will be back in the lineup for the game one. The veterans, Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds, and Jason Spezza will also hold a key role in the playoffs.


The Canadiens were led by newcomer Tyler Toffoli with 28 goals and 44 points in 52 games. Nick Suzuki had a strong sophomore year, scoring 41 points in 56 games. Brendan Gallagher missed some time with injury but will be back for game one. In only 35 games he scored 23 points, but he can do more than score goals and often get under his opponent’s skin.


Secondary scoring will play a big role in the Canadiens success, player like Josh Anderson, Thomas Tatar, and Corey Perry who may not be getting the top-line match up, will have to step up and out score the Leafs depth. There is also the rookie Cole Caufield, who scored four goals, one assist in 10 games. Caufield will serve as a healthy scratch in game one, but if there is a change to be made after the game, one would imagine Caufield makes his way in the lineup.


The edge offensively goes to the Leafs. The Canadiens will have a hard time stopping the Leafs top two lines. But the Canadiens depth can out score the rest of the Leafs lineup this series will be a lot more interesting than people give it credit for.


Defense

The Leafs added T.J. Brodie via free agency in the off-season. He has been quite the fresh air among Leafs fans. He has been Morgan Rielly’s D-partner pretty much all season. He has allowed Rielly to be more offensive this season, scoring 35 points in 55 games. While Rielly struggled in his own end this season, Brodie was able to minimize these mistakes and help solidify the Leaf’s defensive zone.

Muzzin and Holl have been the ‘shut-down’ pair for the Leafs. Dermott, Bogosian, and Sandin have been shifting in and out of that third pair. Bogosian was injured for the last part of the season, but he did practice with the team without a no-contact jersey on Wednesday and will hopefully return to the lineup soon.


Jeff Petry led the Canadiens defence in points with 42 in 55 games. The captain, Shea Weber has missed some time in the latter part if the season, but he will be back for game one. Montreal is the only team in Scotia North Division playoffs to allow more goals than they have scored. They are also in the middle of the pack with 2.95 goals against per game.


Going up against the Leafs with 3.32 goals for per game, doesn’t look like a great matchup for the Canadiens but with players like Weber and Phillip Danault, who has had the matchup against Matthews through the regular season, their defence should get a boost.


Defensively on paper does go to the Leafs, but with the injured players returning to the Canadiens lineup, the Habs might be able to shut the Leafs down for a couple games… especially if a certain goalie can play as he has before.


Goaltending

The Leafs have had an unlikely hero breakout this season. Frederick Andersen started the season as the starter, but after he went down with injury the Leafs looked to backup goaltender, Jack Campbell. Campbell set a new NHL record for most consecutive wins to start a season with 11. Campbell also finished the season with a record of 17-3-2 and a .921 save percentage. Andersen will back Campbell up in game one.


The biggest x-factor to come out of this series will be if Carey Price can play to the elite level he’s played at before. Price, like Andersen, missed a lot of time this season. Jake Allen had to step into a bigger role playing in 29 games and going 11-12-5. It hasn’t been confirmed if Price will get that start for game one. If Price finds that extra gear that he has the edge in goaltending easily goes to the Canadiens. However, if Price plays like he has recently the Leafs have the edge in between the pipes.


Final Verdict

Overall, on paper at least, the edge is heavily in the Leafs favour however, that x-factor can easily steal this series. If Price faulters, I don’t see a scenario where Montreal come out of this series. If Price can stand on his head, I see this series going the distance. As I said earlier, this matchup is far closer than it looks on paper, and Leafs fans know more than anyone how difficult it is to come out of the first round.