Game #41 Preview: Habs @ Leafs - A Playoff Preview?

Cam Charron
April 13 2013 02:32PM

The Montreal Canadiens start today's action in second place. The Toronto Maple Leafs are in fifth place. With the Boston Bruins playing the lifeless Carolina Hurricanes and the Maple Leafs playing their longtime Lower Canadian rivals, it just might mean that by Sunday morning, the 4-5 matchup in the playoffs would be MONTREAL-TORONTO. 

Everybody's hoping for this outcome. There may be better matchups for Toronto on paper but what would signal the Leafs return to the postseason more than this? It would be the most-watched seven-games-or-less series in CBC history. An entire generation has passed without the Canadiens and Maple Leafs facing off the in the playoffs. It last happened in 1979.

Not having grown up a Montreal or a Toronto fan, I don't get whether or not the hatred of the rivalry has tapered off in recent years. The Habs have the Bruins, the Leafs have the Senators. In 1981 the Maple Leafs left the Eastern "Prince of Wales" Conference to join the more Western "Clarence Campbell" Conference and stuck around until 1998.

Hockey is better, I'm sure, when these two teams are at their best. The Canadiens may be one of the best teams in the East. The Leafs still have some work to do.

Broadcast Info:

TV: CBC/RDS

Puck Drop: 7 PM EDT

By The Numbers:

  Montreal Toronto
Corsi Tied % 55.2% (3rd) 45.6% (25th)
5v5 GF/GA Ratio 1.37 (3rd) 1.08 (10th)
Team Shooting % 8.92% 10.59%
Team Save % 0.929 0.924
Team PDO 1.018 1.030

Special Teams:

  Montreal Toronto
PP Success 22.4% (4th) 18.1% (15th)
5v4 GF/60 7.46 (7th) 6.22 (15th)
5v4 SF/60 52.2 (6th) 45.0 (20th)
PK Success 82.5% (13th) 87.2% (3rd)
4v5 GA/60 5.40 (8th) 4.52 (4th)
4v5 SA/60 44.4 (8th) 40.4 (5th)

Starting Goalies:

  EV SV% Quality Start Rate Starts Quality Starts
Carey Price 0.927 59.38% 32 19
James Reimer 0.922 50.00% 24 12

Numbers from Hockey Analysis and NHL.com

Setup:

Montreal and Toronto are both having fantastic years. The pundits swung and missed on both cases. For the Habs, I think by looking at their puck-possession totals, goals for and against rates, and top-third specialty teams I'm more comfortable calling them a team that's going to stick around. At the start of the year I was skeptical because they had pretty poor possession totals last season, but it was mostly masked from that period December-on when Randy Cunneyworth took over from Jacques Martin. 

Marc Bergevin came in this summer and had to do a lot of house cleaning. He made some moves I disagreed with, but ultimately he was able to get the contracts of Erik Cole and Scott Gomez off the club without costing the team anything. Rookies Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk have produced more than any reasonable person could probably hope for, which helps. But I think the major difference between the Habs this season and last has been Andrei Markov. 

I like Markov and he's always been a stable presence on a defensive unit, but he's so rarely healthy, especially over the past four years. But he leads the Habs in Quality of Competition and Time On Ice. He' second on the team in shorthanded TOI, first in powerplay TOI and the team has been so much better in all three game states this season because of it. Not too coincidental in my view. Andrei Markov has made lots of his defence partners through the years very very rich. Sheldon Souray and Mike Komisarek, for instance. Unfortunately for Ryan O'Byrne, he was traded halfway through the year he played with Markov.

How has new coach Michel Therrien deployed the Habs this season? The usage chart tells all…

What's notable to me is that the Habs get two sheltered scoring lines, by offensive zones, as compared to one for the Maple Leafs. Since the Leafs only run three lines, their fourth line has to get a lot of offensive zone starts against weak competition otherwise they'll end up getting buried. If you check the Leafs' chart, Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr actually get the most sheltered minutes on the Leafs, and no Leaf forward has a plus-Corsi rate.

But the top two lines for the Habs—scoring lines that are dangerous—get an added advantage. They get Jeff Halpern, Travis Moen and Brandon Prust, historically all pretty good possession players given their roles, do some of the defensive work giving the Desharnais and Galchenyuk lines more kicks at the can. 

Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Brendan Gallagher
Michael Ryder - Alex Galchenyuk - Lars Eller
Brian Gionta - Tomas Plekanec - Rene Bourque
Travis Moen - Jeff Halpern - Brandon Prust

Francis Bouillon - Andrei Markov
Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Nathan Beaulieu - Davis Drewiske

Carey Price
Peter Budaj

As for the Leafs, again, it's up in the air. Paul Hendrick says that Mikhail Grabovski is a game-time decision. I bet the Leafs run with the same defensive pairings we saw in New York:

 

Required reading by the way is an excellent piece by friend of The Leafs Nation James Mirtle in today's Globe & Mail about Nazem Kadri's on-ice shooting percentage. Be sure to respond to him on Twitter about how shooter regression doesn't affect your favourite team.

Incidentally…

It's not that Kadri's a bad player. He's doing a good job pushing the play North this season. I've seen some good projections that Kadri's true talent is a 55-60 point player in a normal season. That's still really good and puts him in the upper echelon of hockey players. But his point production this year has been helped by unsustainable shooting percentages.

Lines info via LeftWingLock

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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