After qualifying for the playoffs on Saturday night for the first time in seven years, Toronto Maple Leaf fans from coast-to-coast find themselves looking ahead to possible playoff matchups.
If the standings remain in a holding pattern through to the end of the season the Maple Leafs will open the playoffs on the road against their most storied rivalry— the hated Montreal Canadiens.
While Leaf fans hold a measure of hate for the Canadiens and their fans, there is no other team that the Leafs Nation would like to face. For better or for worse, a seven game playoff series between Toronto and Montreal would have both fan bases glued to their television sets and packing sports bars from coast-to-coast.
When you consider the rosters of the Canadiens and Maple Leafs a couple of things stand out. While Montreal seemingly has the advantage with Carey Price between the pipes over James Reimer in Toronto, there really is very little difference between the two sides defensively with Montreal allowing 2.62 goals per game, while the Maple Leafs allow 2.64 goals against per match.
In terms of special teams, the Maple Leafs own the 13th best power play (19.2 percent success rate) and the third best penalty kill at 87.0 percent. Comparatively, the Canadiens own the fourth best power play (21.2 percent success rate) and the 24th ranked penalty kill at 80.0 percent.
Five-on-five the Canadiens hold a slight edge on the Maple Leafs, averaging 1.20 goals for vs. against, while the Maple Leafs sit at 1.08.
Through 45 games played, the Maple Leafs have scored a total of 138 goals, giving up a total of 124 for a differential of +14. Comparatively, the Canadiens have scored a total of 139 times, while giving up a total of 120 for a differential of +19.
The Maple Leafs have 13 wins at Home, 12 on the Road, while the Canadiens have 14 wins at Home and 13 on the Road.
When you add it all up, there is very little (statistically) separating these two teams, which means the intangibles may be the biggest factor should these two sides meet in the first round of the 2013 NHL Playoffs.
With Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban manning the points on the power play they have combined for 15 goals, with a total of 20 goals between the two on the season. The rest of Montreal’s defensive core has lit the lamp a total of seven times, which is just average by NHL standards.
Rapheal Diaz and Alexei Emelin remain somewhat of an unsung hero on Montreal’s blueline, while Josh Georges has been consistently good all season long.
Comparatively, Toronto’s defense boasts the duo of Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson, who have combined for six power play markers and 13 goals on the season. Like Montreal, the rest of Toronto’s defensive core has registered a total of seven goals.
The addition of defenseman Ryan O’Byrne to the Maple Leafs lineup at the trade deadline has given head coach Randy Carlyle some additional grit in front of the net, while Jake Gardiner adds some additional offense to the Maple Leafs’ unit.
Up front the trio of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri give Toronto formidable depth. Combined, Kessel, Kadri and JVR have lit the lamp a total of 52 times, which ranks right up there amongst the NHL’s most lethal trio’s.
Tyler Bozak (12 goals) and the oft-injured Joffrey Lupul (10 goals), gives Toronto a measure of depth up front that few teams have, making Toronto a tough team to key-in on in a seven game series.
Montreal boasts six double-digit scorers, five of which are forwards (defenseman P.K. Subban has 11 goals on the season). Forward Michael Ryder leads the way with 16 goals on the season, while Brian Gionta (14), Max Pacioretty (13), Tomas Plekanec (13) and Brendan Gallagher (13) round out the top five.
Meanwhile, between the pipes, Price’s reputation and playoff experience far outweigh anything James Reimer has accomplished. Despite a strong 20-12-4 record, Price has put together some rather ordinary numbers in terms of goals against and save percentage, sitting at 2.59 and 0.905, respectively.
Despite his tendency to give up glove-side goals and his inability to effectively play the puck, Reimer has been one of the NHL’s best goaltenders, currently sitting fifth overall, with a 0.926 save percentage and a very respectable 2.41 goals against average.
Currently, Reimer is the hotter goaltender, registering seven regulation wins in his past ten games, including two shutouts. Price has just four regulation wins in his past ten games and a 1-3 record against the Maple Leafs this season.
Both teams have excellent coaching with Randy Carlyle manning the bench for the Leafs and Michel Therrien behind the bench for Montreal.
Overall, there is little to chose from between Toronto and Montreal. Both teams have depth throughout their lineups. Both teams have excellent coaching and goaltending and both teams will be hungry for playoff success after missing the playoffs last season.
One area where Toronto holds an advantage over Montreal will be in the trenches and along the boards. Forwards Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren, Jay McClement and Leo Komarov bring a unique combination of physical prowess, checking and the ability to get under the opposition’s skin to the table. Should Carlyle and company find a way to get Montreal to play a physical game or impose their will on the Habs, Toronto should see a huge advantage here.
The Leafs are also tough on the backend with captain Dion Phaneuf, Mark Fraser and Ryan O’Byrne leading the way in the physical department. Simply put, pound for pound the Maple Leafs are one of the toughest teams in the NHL, which could be a huge factor in a seven game series.
Should the standings hold up, Montreal would enjoy home-ice advantage. Montreal also has a considerable advantage in terms of playoff experience over the Maple Leafs.
Will Montreal’s experience and possible home-ice advantage be enough to swing the series in their favor? Only time will tell, but with the eighth seed Los Angeles Kings winning the Stanley Cup last season, there is evidence that a playoff series (even multiple playoff series’) can be won sans home-ice.
Should the Maple Leafs somehow pass the Canadiens in the standings it would be a big advantage for a young, inexperienced playoff team, but again, home-ice is not a deal breaker.
When you consider all the numbers, Montreal would likely get a slight edge defensively, while Toronto’s balanced attack up front would get the nod in my opinion.
Coaching would seem even, Montreal gets the nod on the power play, while Toronto gets the nod on the penalty kill and in the physical department.
Toronto’s overall record (which is good) against Montreal this season should factor into any predictions, but we have seen plenty of teams get dominated by their opponent in the regular season, only to get spanked in the playoffs.
Like many playoff series, success will likely come down to one side out performing the other on special teams. Stay out of the box and Toronto will likely beat Montreal, get careless and Montreal’s power play will be the difference maker.
In the end, this series is tough to call. That said, I’ll take the Maple Leafs in six games, with Joffrey Lupul emerging as the series MVP.