Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 4:00 PM EST.
TORONTO -1½ +135 over Montreal
7:38 PM EST. Wow, if you want to bet the Maple Leafs and you’re opposed to spotting significant juice, it’s pretty difficult to find a wager that will work. Leafs -1½ Games in the series is still -150. If you are willing to spot -2½ games, the take-back is only +145. Leafs to win tonight and to win the series (game and series double) is -165. The books are almost forcing “value” bettors to play the Habs because very often the price dictates the play for the prudent bettor. Toronto -½ -130 in regulation may look fine to some but not to us. In order to cash that ticket, the Leafs will need to be up one goal in regulation time and if that’s the case, there will be a great chance to pot an empty netter to cover the 1½-goals, therefore -½ and - juice is never an option for us.
Now that we have established how difficult the books have made it to bet the Maple Leafs (they are looking for Habs money), let’s address the elephant in the room, which is of course the Maple Leafs playoff futility over the past two decades. We cannot count how many times we have read about the Leafs inability to get out of the first round. That absurd rationale will be used to pull the trigger on Montreal, as many folks across Canada will be watching and wagering. Toronto/Montreal is to hockey what Dodgers/Yanks or Dodgers/Red Sox is to baseball. We’re also reading about Carey Price being ready and Shea Weber also being ready to go. Relax people. It’s not going to matter. All the narratives are not going to matter unless the Habs get extremely lucky and pull a rabbit out of their ass.
Carey Price is barely a replacement level goaltender now. The only thing he’s going to steal is a quick drink of water when Montreal desperately clears the puck. If you bet on the Leafs, you should cheer if you see Price warming up in the starter's crease. Shea Weber is indeed a beast but so is Connor McDavid with the point being that it takes an entire collection of talent to win a playoff series and in this series, Montreal is out-everythinged.
The next sore spot is Toronto’s anemic power-play. Since March 1, only the Ducks have scored goals at a lower rate on the powerplay. Frankly, we love that stat because positive regression is an understatement. Toronto ranked second last over that span for one reason and one reason only -- poor puck luck and it’s not rocket science like Pierre Maguire would leave you to believe. Deflections, rebounds, clears and bounces have all been caroming the wrong way. There’s nothing wrong with Toronto’s PP and chances are outstanding that its power-play luck will change because of all that offensive talent. Austin Matthews is as dangerous on the PP as Nathan MacKinnon or Nikita Kucherov and Marner, Nylander, Tavaras et al are as dangerous as Mackinnon’s or Kucherov’s playmates. Power-play rankings and PK rankings are extremely luck-driven.
Toronto is not just an offensive juggernaut either so let’s put that to rest too. Their improvement defensively is what may finally propel them past the first round. The Leafs finished the season with an EV xGA per 60 that was good for 8th in the league. This can be seen as a reflection of improvements to the back end under Kyle Dubas, with Jake Muzzin and TJ Brodie leading the analytical way. This is not to overlook the defensive commitment of Auston Matthews who plays a great defensive style to compliment his impressive offensive contributions. Terrific even strength play, and an immense amount of offensive talent and stable goaltending makes Toronto just as likely to beat Montreal as Colorado was/is to beat St. Louis.
After a hot start, Montreal looked like a juggernaut too. A few months and a coaching change later and somehow the boys of Montreal have clenched their hands on the last playoff spot in the north. Offseason acquisition, Josh Anderson, didn’t have his best season. Phillip Danault also underwhelmed, at least compared to his reputation. Now we’re witnessing Montreal Coach, Dominique Ducharme, saying all the wrong things. For instance, when asked why Cole Caufield is a healthy scratch, the coach replied, “There will be lineup changes throughout the series”. End of quote. Huh? Does he expect that he’s going to have to change the lineup based on how bad they get beat? What kind of answer/message is that? While it might not seem like much, to us, it’s a clear statement of how unsure he is about his team's ability to beat the Leafs.
Montreal might have the best defenseman in this series in Shea Weber but TJ Brodie isn’t far off in terms of defensive awareness and hockey IQ. Brodie makes the right decision 99% of the time. Yes indeed the Leafs have been denied for a long time but that’s just bullshit fodder that means jack. It does not matter if Toronto was playing Boston, Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton or even Boston. The Maple Leafs time has come and the Habs are the first victim. If Toronto loses tonight, we won’t be upset in the least, as it’ll just provide another opportunity to get behind them in the Updated Series price.
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TORONTO -1½ +135 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.70)