Hockey’s iconic rivalry continues with the 752nd meeting as the Montreal Canadiens (17-9-9) head to Scotiabank Arena to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs (26-10-3) Wednesday. The NHL lines have Toronto as a -145 favorite with the comeback on Montreal at +125. Montreal is 1-2-1 against Toronto this year, but I like them here as an underdog.
The embattled Habs seem to have turned a corner following their nine-day break due to game postponements. Montreal has won three of its last four and if it’s any team that can give Toronto a run for its money, it’s the Habs.
Canadiens: Calling All Heroes
I’ve alternated between tooting the Habs’ horns and facepalming. This team seemed perpetually stuck on the “what if” scenario? To their credit, they’ve been unlucky in many situations and if you compare their stats to their record, you can understand why.
Montreal has been the best 5-on-5 team in the division, metrics-wise. The Canadiens have outplayed almost every opponent. And it doesn’t end there. Their PDO is above average and so is their power play. Their penalty kill could use some work, but it’s nothing ship-sinking.
Their biggest issue has always been closing out games or getting that extra push. It’s almost the opposite of the Leafs, Jets, and Oilers. These teams find themselves outshot and outplayed on many occasions but find ways to win. Montreal would like to sign up for their classes.
Perhaps the Habs simply don’t have that top-end talent like an Auston Matthews or a Connor McDavid. Tyler Toffoli has been phenomenal but is he a star? Montreal has lost 18 games. Eleven were by one goal and nine came via overtime or shootout.
Leafs: Jacked Up
With all due respect to all the spectacular goal-scorers and undersung defensemen in the division. But goaltenders like Jack Campbell have been the difference-makers for the Canadian squads.
The 29-year-old may have stolen the starting job from Frederik Andersen. He set a franchise record with a 9-0 record. He’s averaging 9.1 goals saved above average and has a league-leading 77.8 quality start percent (QS%) among goalies if you qualify his nine starts.
The Leafs have won seven of their last eight and are only giving up 1.87 goals in that span. To their credit, they’ve also limited their opponents’ scoring opportunities and have generally controlled the puck more on 5-on-5. But this is all about Campbell.
We’ve seen what Mike Smith and Connor Hellebuyck have done for their respective squads. And in Ottawa, their mini-renaissance is being driven by solid goaltending. Toronto is just a few wins away from clinching the division title and Campbell is leading the way.
If they’re not beside each other in the standings, Toronto versus Montreal feels like a battle between the eventual finalists of the division. They’re the best teams. But Toronto gets an edge here mainly due to their ability to score clutch goals.
But I digress since I like Montreal to pull the upset here and hand Campbell his first loss. He was less than stellar against Calgary, but it’s the Flames so they couldn’t finish the job.
Jake Allen will also be a difference in the net. He has a 92.1% save percent against Toronto with a 4-2-0 record. Most importantly, he’s only allowed two goals against them. The Leafs’ PP sunk the Habs during their first and fourth meeting.
Montreal already has the edge on 5-on-5 and now they’ll quiet the Leafs’ PP to escape Toronto with a victory here. Bet online the Habs on the money line at plus money.
Pick: Montreal Canadiens ML +125
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