No matter who you’re cheering for, the first three games of this First Round battle between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs have been an emotional roller coaster. Game 1 saw a scary injury to Leafs’ captain John Tavares and an all-time performance from Habs goalie Carey Price to give Montreal the early lead in the series. Game 2 saw the Leafs roar back with a vengeance, dominating the Canadiens en route to a 5-1 victory. Last night, Game 3 saw more health trouble for the Leafs, as Nick Foligno‘s late injury forced Alex Kerfoot into a top-six role, and he performed well in a 2-1 victory. Throughout these trials and tribulations on their way to a series victory, Jack Campbell in net for Toronto has been the one constant.
Jack Campbell Shutting Down Montreal en Route to Series Lead
The Story In Net So Far
Before the Puck Drop
Many were quick to give the goaltending edge in this series to Montreal given Carey Price’s playoff history. After all, he hasn’t posted a save percentage under .920 in a playoff run since 2013-14. Others were quick to give it to Toronto, given Price’s struggles this year (12-7-5, .901 SV%) in comparison to Campbell’s impressive 17-3-2 run to the finish.
Realistically, coming in, the goaltending was nearly a wash. Price’s playoff history couldn’t be ignored, and neither could Campbell’s inexperience. So far, Price’s history has come into play. Jack Campbell and his inexperience haven’t.
Making his playoff debut, the 29-year-old netminder’s only allowed four goals in three starts. His .951 save percentage jumps off the page, but let’s pump the brakes on the ridiculousness of that stat for a second. None of this is to discredit Campbell’s performance, but the Habs’ offence has struggled mightily to generate quality chances against an increasingly stingy Leafs’ defence corps.
How It’s Turned Out
Rather, the story is more around how incredible Carey Price has been in a losing effort. Despite a lower .929 save percentage, the Leafs’ have held the lion’s share of the chances, especially as their power-play unit is finally figuring itself out again. Per 60 minutes, Carey Price is saving 1.349 goals above expected this playoff run (MoneyPuck). That mark is second in the league among goalies to win multiple games, only behind the Winnipeg Jets‘ Connor Hellebuyck.
Toronto is getting ‘goalied’ here, and they’re being forced to win lower-scoring and lower-event games than in the past. When facing a netminder such as Price, you need a full team effort to emerge victoriously. Tristan Jarry, Matt Murray, and the Pittsburgh Penguins found that out the hard way last summer. Toronto’s skaters are doing their part, and Campbell’s above-average play is helping to create a scenario in which Montreal can’t get enough goal support to support Price.
Balanced Attack Favoring the Leafs’ Possession Game
If the Canadiens were to pull off the upset in this series, their two major strengths would need to emerge. One has in Playoff Price. The other — their possession game at even strength — has not.
This has mainly stemmed from Montreal’s ability to limit chances for Toronto’s top line. Despite Zach Hyman being held off the scoresheet entirely so far, his lack of production isn’t currently hurting the team. Toronto’s top unit of him, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner have controlled 58.54 percent of scoring chances and 78.57 percent of high-danger scoring chances (Natural Stat Trick). If Montreal wants to get back in this series, they’ll need to figure out how to bring those numbers closer to 50 in what’s already a low-event series for them.
Toronto’s other lines have seen different looks throughout the series due to injury. William Nylander has had different linemates in every game, but he hasn’t let that slow him down with three goals and four points so far to lead all skaters. Moving into the Leafs’ bottom-six group, the veterans are starting to play a more disciplined game and even chipping in offensively, as Jason Spezza got on the board in Game 2. And despite not having a constant centre, Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev have formed quite a formidable shutdown force on the third line. They’re controlled 91.61 percent of expected goals and 75 percent of scoring chances in the series (Natural Stat Trick).
Keys for Success Moving Forward
For Montreal, coach Dominique Ducharme needs to find a way to overhaul their offensive attack. Rookie Cole Caufield looked impressive in Game 3, especially when given power-play time. He’ll need a more solid two-way game out of his line of Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault, and Brendan Gallagher. That’s been one of their strengths, and they haven’t really produced chances or prevented them with consistency in this series. Goaltending will need to stay strong in order to win three out of their next five, but few predict that’ll be a problem.
The Leafs appear to have found a formula for success here. Their system has largely prevented consistent attacks from Montreal. And while they’ve let in some high-danger chances, Jack Campbell has been good enough to limit those effects on the scoresheet. They’ve been great in transition, limiting neutral zone turnovers and holding pucks in at the blueline to exhaust the Montreal defence.
Their first series win against Montreal since 1967 looks within reach. Consistency will be extremely important for both squads, especially ahead of a crucial Game 4 tonight.
And as always, thanks for reading.
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