Despite the exact start date of the playoffs (especially in the North Division) remaining unclear, these lovely festivities are slated to start within the next two or three weeks. With that being said, recent comments by Habs forward Josh Anderson as well as intense recent matchups have truly refueled the constant rivalry that makes the prospect of a Toronto Maple Leafs vs Montreal Canadiens playoff series so exciting.
At this point, though, a playoff series between the two isn’t a sure thing. The Habs and Winnipeg Jets have the final two playoff spots in the Scotia North Division all but locked up. Yet the two squads are both tied for third place with 57 points in 51 games. With more regulation wins, the Jets would likely win any tiebreaker. However, their seven-game losing streak is cause for concern that they may slip to that fourth spot.
Still, the Habs sit in that last North Division spot, pitting them against the Leafs for their first playoff series since 1979. We’ll dive into how these squads would match up against each other in a playoff series and how it could play out.
All advanced stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick
The Numbers Behind a Toronto Maple Leafs vs Montreal Canadiens Playoff Matchup
Head-to-Head This Season
The Leafs have played eight games against Montreal this season, with two more tilts remaining at home later this week. Toronto’s record against Montreal dropped to 5-2-1 after a 3-2 overtime loss (and Cole Caufield overtime winner) Monday night. The matchups either way have been largely close to even, with the Leafs boasting a goal differential of +5 through their eight games against the Habs.
One thing Montreal hasn’t been able to do is shut down Auston Matthews. The Leafs’ superstar and Rocket Richard frontrunner has a point in every game against them this year, including a two-goal, four-point effort in a 5-3 win on February 20th.
Another thing Toronto’s been able to do is win on the road. They finished their games at the Bell Centre this season with a 3-2-0 record, something that doesn’t bode well for a Montreal team that won’t have home-ice advantage. They’ve also yet to lose in regulation at home to Montreal, but there are still two games left for that to happen.
Tale of the Tape
Toronto’s leading scorers (as of 05/04/2021):
1. Mitch Marner (52 GP, 18 G, 64 PTS)
2. Auston Matthews (48 GP, 39 G, 63 PTS)
3. John Tavares (52 GP, 17 G, 46 PTS)
4. William Nylander (47 GP, 16 G, 39 PTS)
5. Morgan Rielly (51 GP, 5 G, 34 PTS)
Montreal’s leading scorers (as of 05/04/2021):
1. Tyler Toffoli (48 GP, 28 G, 41 PTS)
2. Jeff Petry (51 GP, 12 G, 40 PTS)
3. Nick Suzuki (51 GP, 12 G, 37 PTS)
4. Tomas Tatar (46 GP, 10 G, 30 PTS)
5. Josh Anderson (48 GP, 17 G, 24 PTS)
What It Means
You don’t need me to tell you that Matthews is a generational talent and one of the best goalscorers in the league. You also don’t need me to tell you that Montreal doesn’t have a player like that on their roster – even if Cole Caufield may be that someday.
However – what Montreal still has is a hell of a lot of depth. While that’s hurt with Jonathan Drouin now on LTIR, a notable absence from this list in Brendan Gallagher should be back for the playoffs. Moreover – compare these Habs scorers to last year’s edition of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who the Leafs lost to in the qualifying round. Pierre-Luc Dubois (haha) led the team in scoring with just 18 goals and 49 points in 70 games, a mark that Toffoli, Petry, and Suzuki would all be on pace to beat.
So, yes, Montreal is a better scoring threat than most teams give them credit for, especially at even-strength, and especially with Caufield and Gallagher back in the mix. But the Leafs have some hidden weapons of their own. Zach Hyman‘s breakout campaign will likely resume once the playoffs start as well. Their depth has also kicked it into overdrive with impressive campaigns from Jason Spezza (28 points in 50 games), Alex Galchenyuk (10 points in 22 games), and some good early returns on Adam Brooks (5 points in 9 games). So while Montreal is a deeper and more skilled offensive team than those pesky Blue Jackets from last year, the Leafs have improved hidden weapons of their own that still give them a marked scoring advantage in this matchup.
We come to another area where the Leafs have greatly improved. Toronto has no defenceman on the active roster with an expected goals share of under 50 percent this season. There’s also been some big improvements with the additions of TJ Brodie and now Rasmus Sandin, who’ve both controlled over 57 percent of high-danger chances on the ice. This is an incredible jump over last year, where no Leafs defenceman controlled more than 53 percent of high-danger chances.
Montreal is in a tricky situation. They obviously have the most skilled offensive weapon on the blueline in Jeff Petry, but outside of that, their defence has been a tad watered down by a struggling Shea Weber. Ben Chiarot leads their defencemen in preventing high-danger chances with a 55.77 percent mark on the year, but their second-best weapon in that regard, Brett Kulak, has been grossly misused under coach Dominique Ducharme and has often been an unwarranted healthy scratch for players like Jon Merrill, who have performed underwhelmingly since being acquired by the Habs.
After a good off-season and good mid-season development, Toronto should have the defensive edge in this series too.
I’ve done some deeper dives into the Leafs’ goalie situation before, and the Habs aren’t really my purview, so I’ll keep this one brief. But at this point, even if Jack Campbell (15-2-2, .925 SV%) is posting the best results out of any goalie in this series, it’s still fair to call this a coin flip that could greatly influence the outcome of the series.
Despite Campbell’s incredible performance this season, inexperience is still a factor in the playoffs (even if you like the fancy numbers, like me!). And even with Carey Price‘s barely-pedestrian .901 save percentage this season, he’s still less than a year removed from a remarkable performance in the Toronto playoff bubble that was enough to upset the Pittsburgh Penguins.
And there’s quite literally no clear answer on any other goalie in this series. Frederik Andersen‘s health is still unknown and he’s been inconsistent in past playoff efforts. David Rittich‘s barely seen any playoff action and hasn’t performed well this season either. Jake Allen is in a pretty significant rut after a stellar start to the season.
Goalies are voodoo, and there’s no predicting this one.
I won’t offer a prediction here – there’s not time for that just yet. But the opportunity to watch a Toronto Maple Leafs vs Montreal Canadiens clash in a playoff series for the first time in many fans’ lifetimes is a welcome opportunity.
Despite the whole 1 vs. 4 seed thing, it promises to be an even, hard-fought series that could go the distance. Both teams are better equipped for success than last year, and both teams have their signature strengths.
I’ll just let the numbers do the talking.
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