Welcome back to my Toronto Maple Leafs Opponent Preview series. In this series, I will be previewing each team in the Atlantic Division, and breaking down how they match up against the Maple Leafs. The purpose of this series is to refresh people on how teams in the Atlantic Division are built for the 2021-22 season, especially considering the Maple Leafs haven’t played most of these teams since 2019-20.
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Last time around, I broke down how the Maple Leafs matched up against the Florida Panthers. You can find that piece here. This time around, I will be taking a look at how the Maple Leafs stack up against the Montreal Canadiens in 2021-22.
2020-21 Record: 24-21-11 (59 points, eliminated in Stanley Cup Final by Tampa Bay Lightning)
Notable Additions: David Savard, Mike Hoffman, Christian Dvorak, Cedric Paquette, Chris Wideman, Mathieu Perreault
Notable Subtractions: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar, Eric Staal, Corey Perry, Erik Gustafsson, Michael Frolik
2021 Draft: Logan Mailloux, Riley Kidney, Oliver Kapanen, Dmitri Kostenko, William Trudeau, Daniil Sobolev, Joshua Roy, Xavier Simoneau., Joe Vrbetic
2020-21 Season Series: 7-2-1 (TOR outscored MTL 34-25)
It was a season to remember for the 2020-21 Montreal Canadiens. Despite entering the playoffs with a losing record and all the odds pointing towards the heavily favoured Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1, they managed to pull off a Cinderella-type of run and made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Taking out the Winnipeg Jets and the Vegas Golden Knights en route to the Final, they defied the odds in each round and gave their fans an unforgettable playoff run.
Canadiens Offense Will Rely on Young Talent
Of all the teams in the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens arguably had the busiest offseason. And up front is where you’ll find most of the changes. Gone are Phillip Danault, who signed a six-year contract with the Los Angeles Kings, as well as Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who the Habs lost through an offer sheet at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes. They also said goodbye to veterans like Tomas Tatar, Eric Staal, and Corey Perry.
On the flipside, the Canadiens acquired Christian Dvorak from the Arizona Coyotes to make up for the loss of Kotkaniemi. They also added power play specialist Mike Hoffman and veterans Cedric Paquette and Mathieu Perreault. It’s clear that the Canadiens are confident that their young talent led by Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki will lead their offense this season, and the return of Jonathan Drouin will give them a boost as well.
How Do the Maple Leafs Match Up?
Between the two teams, I’ll take the Maple Leafs’ offense. The Canadiens’ forward group has some very intriguing pieces, and I believe they’re going to be better offensively than they were last season, but the Canadiens don’t really have any superstars up front. This discussion will be closer in the future once Suzuki and Caufield are more established NHLers, but the Maple Leafs’ forwards get the edge for now.
Canadiens Suffer Big Blow on Defense
While the Canadiens didn’t lose any defensemen to free agency or trades besides Erik Gustafsson, their biggest loss was an internal one. Shea Weber looks like he won’t be taking the ice in 2021-22 due to lingering knee, ankle, and thumb injuries. This is obviously a massive loss for Montreal’s back end, not only for the game Weber brings but for the leadership and experience in the dressing room.
With Weber out for the season, the Canadiens added David Savard and Chris Wideman to their back end and will rely on Alexander Romanov taking a step forward in his development. They will also rely on a big season from Jeff Petry, who had 42 points in 55 games last season and seems to get better with age.
How Do the Maple Leafs Match Up?
This one is closer than the offense, but I would give the Maple Leafs the edge on the back end. I think the Canadiens certainly have a “safer” defensive corps, per se, than the Maple Leafs, but the loss of Weber puts them a step behind. However, this could change depending on how Savard settles into his new role and how Romanov looks in his sophomore season.
Canadiens Will Be Without Star Goaltender to Start 2021-22
While, initially, there was speculation that star goaltender Carey Price would be ready for the start of the 2021-22 season, it was announced on Thursday that he would be taking a leave of absence from the team to join the NHLPA’s player assistance program.
While I don’t want to speculate on the reason Price entered the program, his well-being is ultimately priority number one in this situation and I think it’s safe to say that everybody wants him to take care of himself before anything else. With Price out of the lineup indefinitely, the Canadiens will look to Jake Allen and likely one of Cayden Primeau or Samuel Montembault to hold down the fort in Price’s absence.
How Do the Maple Leafs Match Up?
Under normal circumstances with Price still in the picture, I would give the Canadiens the edge between the pipes. But without him, I’ll give the edge to the Maple Leafs. While Allen is a very good backup goalie, Primeau and Montembault are both unproven at the NHL level while the Maple Leafs’ tandem of Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek has shown flashes of brilliance on their own terms. When Price eventually makes it back, though, I don’t think there’s any question regarding who’s got the better goaltending.
Head Coaching Matchup: Sheldon Keefe vs. Dominique Ducharme
This one is an interesting one. Both coaches have very limited NHL experience, especially Ducharme, who took over on an interim basis after Claude Julien was shown the door and led the Canadiens to a Cup Final.
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For the sole reason that Ducharme outcoached Keefe in Round 1 last season, I think it’s only fair to give him the slight edge over Keefe heading into 2021-22. Having said that, both coaches still have lots of growing and learning to do.
Canadiens Prospect Corner
Poehling’s NHL sample sizes have been, interesting, to say the least. He made his NHL debut in the final game of the 2018-19 season and scored a hat trick, but the following year he only had two points in 27 games.
After spending 28 games with the American Hockey League (AHL)’s Laval Rocket and posting 25 points, he appears to be ready to take on a full-time NHL role in 2021-22.
The reason I’m putting Primeau on here is because with Price out to start the season, he’s going to have a good opportunity to showcase himself to Canadiens’ management.
While Allen is more than capable as a backup goalie, I’d imagine the Habs wouldn’t want to give him the same workload Price is used to, which opens a door of opportunity for Primeau, who only has six NHL games under his belt to date.
After spending his entire career to date in Finland, Ylonen got his first taste of North American hockey last season and put up 17 points in 29 games for the AHL’s Laval Rocket. Whether the 2018 second-round pick starts the season with the Canadiens or in the AHL is unknown, but he should be one of the first players to earn a call-up in the event of an injury, should he start in the minors.
Message From Enemy Lines
“When the healthy the Canadiens could match up pretty well with the Maple Leafs. No one on the Habs can match the top four of the Leafs in offence, but the Canadiens have better depth throughout the lineup. If Price returns this season, and is playoff Price, he is head-and-shoulders better than the Maple Leafs’ goaltending. Defense wise, the Canadiens wont offer much in the offense department, but are slightly better — or at least even — to the Maple Leafs and their defensive core. In the end, the Maple Leafs’ top four, and the injuries to the Canadiens, put the Leafs as the better team head-to-head.”Trege Wilson, The Hockey Writers
Oct. 13, 2021 vs Montreal
Jan. 6, 2022 @ Montreal
Mar. 26 @ Montreal
Apr. 9 vs Montreal
2021-22 Season Prediction: Fifth in Atlantic
Despite the efforts in last season’s playoffs, I have Montreal finishing fifth in the division this season. As much as I still think they’re going to be competitive this season and will challenge for a playoff spot, the Atlantic Division is a whole different beast compared to last season’s North Division.
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- Canadiens’ Over-Reliance on Carey Price Should End in 2021-22
I can’t see them finishing above the Tampa Bay Lightning, Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, or Boston Bruins. But with a healthy Price and strong showings from Suzuki and Caufield, anything is possible.