Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs Odds & Picks: Montreal Undervalued in Debut Meeting With Toronto

Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs Odds & Picks: Montreal Undervalued in Debut Meeting With Toronto article feature image
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Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images. Pictured: Carey Price, Brendan Gallagher

  • The Toronto Maple Leafs are the consensus favorite to win the NHL's North Division, which is comprised of only Canadian teams.
  • That said, Michael Leboff thinks the Montreal Canadiens are not that far behind Toronto and can give the Leafs a game on Wednesday night in their season opener.

Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs Odds

Canadiens Odds +120 [BET NOW]
Maple Leafs Odds -145 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 6 [BET NOW]
Time 7 p.m. ET
TV NHL Center Ice
Odds as of Tuesday and via BetMGM. Get an INSTANT $500 deposit match at BetMGM today or see more offers and reviews for the best online sportsbooks.

Believe it or not, the Toronto Maple Leafs are all anybody can talk about when you bring up the North Division. The Leafs are deserving favorites to win the All-Canada Division and unsurprisingly Big Hockey Media is losing their collective [you know what] about Toronto’s chances to finally win a playoff series. But there’s another story brewing under the surface up north.

Quietly, the Montreal Canadiens have taken a lot of money in the futures market and have shortened from +5000 to +2600 to win the Stanley Cup and are now the second-favorites to win the North Division at DraftKings.

Even though the market has warmed up to the idea that the Habs are up to the mark, the Leafs are still a clear favorite in the eyes of bookmakers, bettors and pundits alike. But just how far apart are these two clubs?

Montreal Canadiens

I am all-in on the Canadiens as we come out of the gates for the 2021 season. For most of the winter I wanted to shout from the rooftops that Montreal is live in the North Division. Society frowns on that sort of thing, unfortunately.

On the surface, nothing really jumps out about what Montreal did last regular season. The Canadiens finished 31-31-9 with 71 points and a -9 goal differential in 71 games. A portrait of mediocrity.

But if you took a deeper look, you’d see the Habs deserved much better results. Montreal posted the second-best xG differential per 60 minutes during the regular season, finishing just behind Vegas and slightly ahead of Tampa Bay.

Stat (5-on-5) Regular Season (71 games) NHL Rank
Goals per 60 2.54 17th
Goals Against per 60 2.45 13th
Goal Differential per 60 +0.08 13th
Expected Goals per 60 2.66 3rd
Expected Goals Against per 60 2.34 11th
Expected Goals Against per 60 +0.41 2nd

Driving play is never a bad thing, but Montreal’s terrific possession numbers never really led to sustained success because of a roster flaw: The Habs lacked scoring talent.

The Canadiens finished 26th overall with a 7.45 shooting percentage at 5-on-5, and that lack of scoring put more pressure on the defense and goaltending to make the chances they did convert stand up. That didn’t happen, as Carey Price struggled to a -11.04 GSAx over the regular season.

But after a five-month hiatus due to the pandemic, we saw the return of “Vintage” Carey Price, as he returned to form in The Bubble, posting a +7.92 GSAx in Montreal’s 10 postseason games.

Goaltending is incredibly volatile, so it’s hard to tell which version of Price we get in 2021, but assuming it’s the one we saw in the Bubble, the Habs are on the cusp. And if they can find a way to finish the chances they create, look out.

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It’s still a question mark whether or not Montreal will score enough to reap what it sows by controlling the puck, but I’m optimistic. The Habs already have a terrific first line with Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher, and now they should have more depth down the middle and on the edges.

Play-driving wingers Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli are perfect fits in the middle-six, while youngsters Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi give Montreal potential game-changers behind Danault down the middle. If Suzuki and Kotkaniemi play the way they did in The Bubble, Montreal could have three centers worthy of top-line minutes.

Montreal is also set for the time being on defense with Jeff Petry and Shea Weber playing big minutes. Ben Chiarot and Brett Kulak are fine 3/4 rearguards, and who knows how good KHL standout Alexander Romanov will be. Like Kotkaniemi and Suzuki, Romanov’s ceiling could be sky high and give Montreal a third top-pair blueliner.

The Habs may not have the elite talent that you look for on a Stanley Cup contender, but they are a lot closer than most people realize.


Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs are here to turn this (and every) game into a track meet. Loaded with star talent, the Buds will always bet on themselves to come out ahead in back-and-forth games.

It’s a sensible strategy for this team. A lineup that features Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly isn’t meant to sit back and hit you on the counter. Toronto finished second in goals scored, fourth in expected goals for per hour and fourth in shot attempts per hour in 2019/20.

Playing this kind of up-tempo hockey comes at a price, of course, and the Leafs paid that toll quite often last season. Toronto allowed 2.71 goals against per hour (5-on-5), putting them sixth from the bottom and tied with the longshot Ottawa Senators. The silver lining was that Toronto’s expected goals against per hour sat at 2.45, which is mediocre, but still showed that with some better goaltending the Leafs could have been more consistent in ’19/20.

Toronto’s defense does stand a pretty good chance to improve this season as T.J. Brodie was brought in to play with Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin is healthy again. You could see the bottom-pairing, which currently projects to be Zach Bogosian with Travis Dermott, being a bit of a calamity, but who knows?

The bottom-of-roster depth is also a bit concerning up front. Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds were all terrific players in their salad days, but all three of them are past it. And it’s fair to be skeptical of Jimmy Vesey and Alex Barbanov, as well.

In all likelihood, the Leafs will go as far as their goaltender takes them. Frederik Andersen is coming off a substandard season, and if he doesn’t find his game, the Buds could be in some trouble with their high-risk, high-reward style.

Canadiens-Maple Leafs Pick

The Montreal Canadiens may be starting to gain sleeper steam, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are the clear-cut favorite in the North Division. It seemed like people couldn’t wait to anoint the Leafs as Canada’s Team when the NHL confirmed that the seven teams up north would be duking it out among themselves.

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I’m not here to disagree with the notion that the Leafs are the best team in the division, but rather to suggest that the gap between these two teams isn’t as wide as these odds suggest. At -140, the Leafs have an implied win probability of 58.3%. I think that price flatters Toronto, and thus I am looking to play Montreal on Wednesday night.

My hope is that the Leafs will take money in the pre-game betting and the price will tick up a few notches, but I think +120 is a good price on Montreal and would play it so long as the number doesn’t dip below there.

Pick: Montreal Canadiens +120

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