Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 4:30 PM EST.
Montreal -½ +225 over TORONTO
5:30 PM EST. Regulation only. The Maple Leafs are certainly a threat again this year so let’s not take anything away from them. They are loaded offensively and added some experience and depth with forwards Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds, and Jimmy Vessey. Toronto also added defensemen T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian. That’s a whole bunch of experience there, not to mention some serious grit with Wayne Simmonds.
Still, we have to wonder just how improved Toronto’s defense and goaltending is. It was a weak spot last year and so, too, was team chemistry. The Maple Leafs were either greatly overrated last season or they greatly underachieved and would it be that much a surprise if the same thing occurred this year or if the Leafs started slowly? We think not. Furthermore, the weight of expectations has not served this group well and until we see something different, Toronto could be a decent fade target early on but even if they are not, this wager is more about getting behind the Habs than it is about fading Toronto.
On the surface, the Habs looked like a picture of mediocrity in 2019/20. They finished 31-31-9 with 71 points and a -9 goal differential in 71 games Under the surface, Montreal looked like a team that should be a contender. The Habs had the second-best Expected Goal differential per 60 minutes during the regular season, finishing just behind Vegas and slightly ahead of Tampa Bay. Not bad company to keep. 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 during 5-on-5 play 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. Part of Price’s struggles seemed to be workload related. He played in 58 of Montreal’s 71 games in the regular season, tying him with Connor Hellebuyck for the most appearances in 2019-20. 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. Price posted a +7.92 GSAx in Montreal’s 10 postseason games and carried the Habs to an upset over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Qualifying Round. Montreal probably deserved to pull off another shocker in Round 1, as the Habs thoroughly outplayed the Flyers but didn’t score enough to get through the series.
Montreal still doesn’t have the game-breaking finisher that you’d think it would need to contend, but the Habs bolstered an already strong group of forwards by signing Tyler Toffoli and trading Max Domi for Josh Anderson. When Domi was on, he was a force, but the team is betting that Anderson will give this group the consistent finisher it has sorely lacked. If Anderson and Toffoli provide even a little bit of scoring oomph, the Habs could have one of the deepest rosters in the league, and the ceiling could be pretty high considering middle-six centers Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are 21 and 20 years old, respectively. Things check out on defense, too, as Jeff Petry and Shea Weber give Montreal two No. 1 defensemen and the rest of the unit projects to be fine, too.
The Maple Leafs are favored but they are far from perfect and we’re going to trust that after a horrible (and very unlucky) shooting percentage last year, Montreal is in for a serious correction to the good. That means victories.
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Montreal -½ +225 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 4.50)