NHL Odds & Picks For Maple Leafs vs. Canadiens: Bet the Home Underdog
Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images. Pictured: Joel Edmundson
- The Maple Leafs have won six straight games entering Monday night in Montreal.
- The Canadiens, on the other hand, have lost three straight.
- Who has value in this one? NHL betting analyst Sam Hitchcock breaks it down below.
Maple Leafs vs. Canadiens Odds
|Maple Leafs Odds||-140|
|Over/Under||6 (-105 / -115)|
|Time | TV||Monday, 7 p.m. ET|
|Odds as of Sunday evening and via BetMGM.|
Unlike the East, Central and West, the North Division is mostly robbed of drama regarding which team will clinch the fourth postseason spot. The Vancouver Canucks’ hellish season start, as well as Calgary recently going down in, well, Flames, practically guarantees that the Canadiens will coast, or stumble, into the playoffs.
Nevertheless, Monday’s contest between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens has spice because most likely we will see them face off in the first round of the postseason.
While I would be highly skeptical of Montreal winning a series against Toronto, I think Monday night presents a delicious opportunity for bettors to grab the Canadiens as a home underdog as they are +120 on BetMGM.
A 5-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night was the apogee of humiliation for Montreal. The Canadiens desperately need their defensemen to participate in their offense, yet against Winnipeg in the second leg of a mini-series, they failed to facilitate scoring.
At the moment, the Canadiens are struggling to manufacture goals, and that flaw requires they play at 5-on-5, where they have strong analytics. On Saturday night, Montreal’s lack of discipline gift-wrapped ample power-play opportunities to the Jets, which proved costly.
Montreal also finished with its second-fewest shot attempts at 5-on-5 this season, demonstrating a bizarre prudishness for shooting the puck considering it was missing Brendan Gallagher, who ranks second on the team in goals. The Canadiens have lost three games in a row and now face the hottest team in the NHL in the Leafs.
The Canadiens need to keep this game low-scoring, and there are advantages they can harness to keep this game close. First, simplify. The Winnipeg game on Saturday night was especially brutal because Montreal demonstrated awful puck management.
On Paul Stastny’s goal, Jeff Petry literally passed the puck to the Winnipeg forward as if he were a teammate. The Canadiens finished with 0.97 expected goals, a miserable number, largely because their breakout and neutral zone decisions saw them consistently forfeiting the puck to the opposition.
The Canadiens prefer to traverse the ice using short passes. They are inclined to zip the puck back and forth when approaching their zone entry and 10 feet inside the blue line of the offensive zone. But there were too many east-west passes on Saturday night, giving Winnipeg the chance to collect the puck and propel it in the opposite direction. Surrendering counterattack chances to Toronto would be an especially dangerous proposition.
Chipping the puck forward for an area pass can help spring a player like Josh Anderson, who finished the game on Saturday night with zero shot attempts in 13 minutes of ice time at 5-on-5, despite being Montreal’s best straight-line player. Anderson’s teammates need to do a better job throwing the puck into space and letting Anderson track it down and drive it to the net. Toronto lacks physicality, which Montreal can exploit by bullying the puck to the net.
In Montreal’s 4-0 romp against Edmonton on March 30th, Connor McDavid was held to zero shots on goal. Readers may also remember this game as the one where McDavid was so angry that he elbowed Jesper Kotkaniemi in the face. In that game, Phillip Danault shadowed McDavid, clinging to the superstar forward and not giving him the oxygen he needs to bloom.
With Toronto right wing William Nylander to COVID protocol, the Maple Leafs are missing a significant creator on their second line, which puts pressure on the Auston Matthews line to create scoring. Since the Canadiens are at home, they will be able to pit Danault against the Matthews line, and if Danault successfully hinders the Maple Leafs’ offense, Toronto could really struggle. On Saturday night, the Matthews line accounted for four of the five Maple Leafs goals at 5-on-5.
Danault stymying Matthews and Marner is less outlandish than it sounds. In 38:31 of ice time at 5-on-5 this season, the Canadiens have outshot the Maple Leafs 24-15 when Danault is on the ice against Matthews and Marner, and the Toronto forwards haven’t registered a goal. If this trend continues, this game suddenly becomes a low-scoring grind.
Expected goals (also known as xG) is a predictive statistic that gives an indication of whether results are based on sustainable factors like a steady creation of scoring chances, or whether it is down to aspects such as shooting luck or outstanding goaltending.
Simply put, an expected goals rate (xGF%) above 50% is considered good because it means a team is creating the majority of the scoring chances. Anything below 50% is usually a sign that a team is struggling to control play.
xG numbers cited from Evolving Hockey.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Things could get awkward if they haven’t already. Putative starting goaltender Frederik Andersen is currently on long-term injured reserve. But since March 1st, in the three weeks before his injury, Andersen’s numbers in the seven games he played rank among the five worst goaltenders in the NHL in terms of Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx).
Meanwhile, his backup, Jack Campbell, has a 1.45 GSAx during the same time span, and Toronto wins every time he is in net. A goaltending controversy is afoot!
But zoom in closer, and Campbell’s play is declining. He is a negative in GSAx in his four games played since April 1st. Campbell has played Toronto’s last three games, so it is possible we see Michael Hutchinson on Monday night. Should that occur, Montreal will rejoice, as in his eight games this season Hutchinson has a -1.83 GSAx.
Even with improved goaltending, Toronto’s current six-game win streak has largely been buoyed by its skaters, who lead the NHL in high-danger chances and rank third in expected goals percentage during that time. Toronto has exhibited impressive versatility, showing an aptitude on the forecheck to supplement its voracious rush attack. The relentlessness with which the Maple Leafs pursue the puck and force turnovers signals they will be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason, should their goaltending not founder their chances.
And yet, Toronto’s NHL-leading 3.79 goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 during their six straight wins could be due for regression. The Maple Leafs are enjoying a shooting percentage of 11.66, which is unsustainable. Alas, in the 35 games prior, the Maple Leafs had a 9.1 shooting percentage at 5-on-5.
The Maple Leafs have a surfeit of skill and speed, but they also have vulnerabilities, and one of their biggest ones was exposed on Saturday night. Ottawa ferried the puck into areas where Toronto had to stick-check and box out around the low slot. The Drake Batherson and Connor Brown goals are examples of the Maple Leafs’ susceptibility below the circles.
Toronto has been receiving strong back pressure from their forwards through the neutral zone. But if Montreal’s puck-carriers can spray the puck on net to force a battle in the low slot — or if they can drive the puck wide and try to jam it into the crease — this could put Toronto’s defensemen in a compromising position.
Betting Analysis & Pick
As regards Toronto, it is really hard to win seven games in a row in the NHL. In contrast, the Canadiens just dropped their last three games in regulation and are likely due for a conquest!
Picking against Matthews isn’t fun, but with the Canadiens at home and having the agency to set the matchups, they are primed to exact revenge, having lost the last two meetings against the Leafs.
Pick: Canadiens +120