NHL Odds & Pick for Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs: Back Toronto to Win in Regulation (May 6)
Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Auston Matthews
- The Maple Leafs look to continue their success this season against the Canadiens.
- Montreal heads to Toronto one day after playing in Ottawa, which isn't as bad a spot as many think it is.
- Matt Russell authentic really likes the Leafs on Thursday and lays out how to back them.
Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs Odds
|Maple Leafs Odds||-190|
|Time||Thursday, 7 p.m. ET|
|Odds as of Wednesday and via DraftKings|
Never say never. A good strategy in life, but almost as salient in sports betting.
To say I never bet a favorite of a high price would be untrue, even if I’m loath to do it and you’d be hard-pressed to find a preview in this space written by me advising laying a big price in an NHL game.
This is that exception, and it’s not one I take lightly. When laying a big price, you have to have a level of certainty that 20 years of betting on sports has dragged out of me years ago.
However, when it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night, I think there is only one way to play it, even if we need to deploy a work around.
Whether it’s the first week of the season or the last, all points count the same and you’ve got to bank them where you can. For the Montreal Canadiens, that hasn’t been an easy task against the Ottawa Senators this season.
That was the case again on Wednesday night, as the Canadiens no-showed at the Canadian Tire Centre. Now, the Habs are in the schedule spot that has vexed teams all season. You can count on one hand the number of times a team has played in one city, then travelled to another city (in some cases, home) and beat a team that had the previous night off. Those teams were all higher in the standings than their opponent.
The Canadiens are being asked to travel from Ottawa to Toronto to take on the North Division-leading Leafs on their home-ice less than 24 hours later.
If that weren’t enough, with Jake Allen getting the call on Wednesday in an attempt to bank those points, that means Montreal will be looking for someone else to man the crease for them in “The Big Smoke.”
Incumbent starter Carey Price was seen on the ice earlier this week, but he was unfortunately in a tracksuit getting a light skate with a players’ stick, shooting pucks, not stopping them, as he works his way back from a concussion. Cayden Primeau will likely get his third start of the season, and while he’s 1-1, his 2.93 Goals Against Average and .893 save percentage aren’t striking fear in opponents’ hearts.
The Senators were missing a 25-minute-per-night defenseman and a key forward, but they were still able to dominate Montreal, creating 10 High-Danger Chances in the first two periods to just two for the Canadiens on the way to a 4-1 lead. Despite the three-game win streak the Habs carried into Canada’s capital, they haven’t been able to put two good games in a row together in over a month, and they certainly kept that streak alive in the loss.
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.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs have had a couple days to lick their wounds from Monday’s overtime loss, knowing that they played a playoff brand of quality hockey allowing just one single High-Danger Chance at even-strength to the Canadiens. However, a late goal with the Habs’ 6-on-5 tied the game 2-2 and led to the Leafs’ loss in overtime.
The Leafs were due for a loss to Montreal, having been living rent-free in the Habs’ head this season. Expected by those of us in the hockey analytics community to get a test from the metrics’ darling Canadiens, the Leafs were 52 seconds away from improving to 6-2 over Montreal.
With the two teams a very real potential matchup in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the only thing that the dramatic game-tying goal and overtime winner may have done is get the Leafs’ attention. That and the steam train that is the Edmonton Oilers. The Leafs’ are finally seeing someone in their rearview for the division lead, so I don’t expect a phone-it-in performance in Toronto.
The Leafs can lock up first place if they can pick up the majority of points in these two games with the Habs, and they can send a message to Montreal ahead of a possible playoff series.
Toronto jumped out to a lead in the North when they weren’t playing their best hockey, but its power play was carrying them at an ungodly rate early in the season. Even though they’re just 15-13 in the latter half of the season, the Leafs have improved at even-strength, playing at a 19% above-average rate in those 28 games compared to the first 24 games where they were just 5% above average while managing 18 wins.
Simply put, they weren’t good enough to be winning 75% of their games then, but they’re much better than a .535 team now.
Betting Analysis & Pick
For bankroll management purposes, I’m not willing to lay around two units to win back one in a notoriously sketchy week of the regular season. All told, in their matchups this season, the Leafs’ have 13.77 expected goals at even-strength to the Habs’ 13.21.
However, special teams have been the difference and given the schedule spot the Habs are facing and the disparity between the teams’ play at even-strength over the last two months, I’m willing to back the Maple Leafs here.
Given my confidence in the favorite, I’m willing to bet that the Leafs won’t need overtime to get it done on Thursday night.
Pick: Maple Leafs 60 Minute Line -118 (-125 or better)