NHL Playoff Preview: Montreal Canadiens vs. Winnipeg Jetsby Carter LaCorte June 1, 2021 0 comments
We knew the Canadian division would be chaotic, so of course, the division finals would be between two teams without much to look into. Both teams embarrassed others in the first round. Montreal rallied down 3-1 to take down the Maple Leafs, making it five years in a row for Toronto. Meanwhile, the Jets swept the Oilers, and two of the league’s best players. In the season series, Winnipeg won six of the nine games. The main thing to look out for is the goalies. We see the star of years past up against the best in the league right now.
The Vezina Trophy finalists came out on Tuesday, and Connor Hellebuyck was not one of them. It was understandable, as he was not the best goalie this year. But Hellebuyck has proved that he is a top-two netminder. His .916 save percentage and .258 GAA were nothing special, but he stole the Edmonton series. He made an even four games all go to the Jets as he stopped 95 percent of shots. Hellebuyck is the better goalie, but it feels unfair to Carey Price. Formerly the league’s top goalie, Price has fallen all the way back down to Earth. But, he is showing right now that playoff Price is a thing. Like Hellebuyck, he may have stolen a series. Price had a .932 save percentage versus Toronto.
This is a complicated topic for the Jets. One on hand, righties Dylan DeMelo and Neal Pionk have had great numbers in their time in Manitoba, and Derek Forbort is a good penalty killer. But, top pair player Josh Morrissey is someone who the Habs can take advantage of in the offensive zone. The same could be said for the inexperienced Tucker Poolman and Logan Stanley. The Canadiens win with much better depth. Shea Weber and Jeff Petry are still commanding well into their 30s. Brett Kulak, Ben Chiarot, and Joel Edmundson are all good in the defensive zone. The weak point is Erik Gustafsson, easily. This could be fixed by replacing the liability with veteran Jonathon Merrill or rookie Alexander Romanov. The former may be banged up.
The Jets run away with this category. They were the seventh-best team on the powerplay in 2020-21, scoring 23 percent of the time. The Habs were more middle-of-the-pack, with a 19.2 percentage. On the penalty kill, the Jets were better as well. They were tested in the first round, as they faced the league’s top power-play unit. Neither team was great, as the Jets beat the Habs 80.5% to 78.5 percent. The book on the Habs is that they are great at five-on-five but struggle on special teams. This is the Jets lane in this series.
These forward cores are truly built differently. The Jets are top-heavy, with a great top-six. Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, and Blake Wheeler make up a nice first line, with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Paul Stastny playing with Nikolaj Ehlers, who could be the best skater in this series. Their bottom six is more traditional, with role players like Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp, and Mathieu Perreault. The Canadiens have a first-line and three lines that are between the second and third levels. The second line of Tyler Toffoli, Nick Suzuki, and rookie Cole Caufield produced a ton versus Toronto. Montreal will win this battle if Head Coach Dominique Ducharme decided to not healthy scratch Tomas Tatar. Tatar has been great with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher but is being held back.
This has to be Tatar for Montreal. He has given them first-line production in his time with the team and is entering free agency. An interim coach, Ducharme is not doing himself any favors by intentionally taking out one of his best players. He did the same early against Toronto with Caufield, who was great when drawn in. DeMelo comes in here for the Jets. The Habs have a lot of forwards who can score, and the Jets lack on defense. As the main defensive defenseman on the team, he may have to carry the load or pray Hellebuyck carries the defense.
Once again, Ducharme needs to stop overthinking things. He preaches experience without having any himself. The man sat Caufield and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who turned the tide around when the team was down. Now, he has sat Tatar and continues to withhold Romanov. His inexperience, ironically, is what gives this category to the Jets. Paul Maurice has been in the league for a long time. Maurice coached the Hartford Whalers once and has been behind a bench in every season besides two since 1995-96. He has been the Jets bench boss since 2013-14, despite minimal success.
One team swept, and the other came back from down 3-1 to win in seven. Normally, when a four-game series versus a seven-game series goes into the next round, the team that swept will start slow. That is the main worry for the Jets. Hellebuyck can try to carry them, but they simply don’t have the defensive depth. Better lineup decisions can swing this series Montreal’s way. The main concern for either team is really not fatigue or lack of depth. It is the looming threat of Colorado or Vegas, who are both an unstoppable force. At least these games will be fun, right?
Series Prediction: Montreal 4-3
Follow Carter LaCorte on Twitter @CarterHudBlog
Main Image Credit:
Embed from Getty Images