Jets vs. Canadiens Odds
|Time||Sunday, 6 p.m. ET|
|Odds as of Saturday and via BetMGM|
The Montreal Canadiens return home riding high and looking to take a 3-0 series lead on Sunday night after two excellent road efforts in Winnipeg.
The Canadiens took full advantage of Winnipeg’s current lack of center depth in Game 2, controlling much of the play and making life very manageable for Carey Price, who was again excellent when needed en route to the 1-0 shutout victory.
With Paul Stastny still out for the Jets and Mark Scheifele serving his first of a four-game suspension, Winnipeg skated notably thin at the crucial center-ice position in Game 2, and the Canadiens took advantage. Although it was still a close game throughout, I believe there were some issues beyond that for the Jets and that Montreal were considerably better overall.
Montreal’s Depth Is Standing Out
Through the first two contests of the series, Montreal leads 7.25-4.20 on expected goals and in high-danger chances at 20-8. Both come as no surprise, as the Canadiens have clearly supported the puck much better, breaking out of their zone with speed much more consistently and doing a great job of winning puck battles down low inside the Jets’ end of the ice.
There is a notable difference in the composition of the Canadiens compared to the Oilers, with whom the Jets got a ton of credit for beating last round, specifically with the Oilers skating Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on one line in the series, as the group was very top heavy upfront and made for a much more manageable matchup for the Jets. You look at the fourth and final game of the series, and Oilers coach Dave Tippett can hardly even force himself to ice two of the lines for most of a triple-overtime game.
Montreal is built entirely differently offensively, composed with overall depth as its strong suit compared to a couple of truly elite talents like the Oilers. The Habs may have lulled their way into the playoffs, but on paper they are very deep and we are seeing a number of players finding their game at the right time for this club now.
There is certainly a lack of truly elite talent up front, but with a ton of guys pulling on the rope right now, Montreal is hiding that well, although it would probably become prominent should it advance to face Vegas or Colorado, specifically with those clubs having much more depth defensively than Winnipeg.
In Games 1 and 2, Montreal displayed a great example of why size isn’t everything with regards to playoff hockey, with a number their smaller forwards — Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Paul Byron, Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Brendan Gallagher amongst others — doing an excellent job getting in on the forecheck and winning puck battles in both zones as smaller players.
The line of Kotkaniemi, Josh Anderson and Paul Byron was notably strong and skated to an absurd xGF% of 91.3 in the contest. The trio of Tyler Toffoli, Suzuki and Caufield was also quite good, and I felt that Caufield in particular looked excellent.
Many questioned how Caufield would perform in the playoffs with so little NHL experience, but he is certainly faring quite well so far. His timing on breakouts and neutral-zone regroups is spectacular, and his smooth puck handling and pass receptions showed up as huge positives in Game 2. Caufield might not have much to offer physically, but there is clearly enough upside to make up for that even when he is not scoring.
Expected goals (also known as xG) is a predictive statistic that gives an indication of whether results are based on sustainable factors like a steady creation of scoring chances, or whether it is down to aspects such as shooting luck or outstanding goaltending.
Simply put, an expected goals rate (xGF%) above 50% is considered good because it means a team is creating the majority of the scoring chances. Anything below 50% is usually a sign that a team is struggling to control play.
How Winnipeg Can Get Back in the Series
With Scheifele out, Pierre-Luc Dubois centered the Jets’ top line in Game 2 and the results were simply not very good. The trio of Dubois, Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler were notably pinned in their own zone on a number of occasions en route to an xGF% of 23.8.
Dubois showed in last year’s postseason just how dominant he can be when he is at his best, having especially impressed in the Blue Jackets’ elimination of the Maple Leafs. He will likely need to find that level for the Jets to come back against Montreal.
Stastny was a game-time decision for Game 3, and it sounds likely he will return for Game 4, which would serve as a notable boost for a Jets group very short in the center of the ice.
We have seen a number of Jets defensemen offer a lack of mobility and poor puck movement in the series, and the lack of depth at that position is currently showing as a cause for concern which may be tough to solve. Logan Stanley, Jordie Benn and Tucker Poolman have all been consistently exposed so far in this series.
The Jets will need to up their aggressiveness and find a way to take more of the play to the Habs, spending more time in the offensive zone to help insulate some of these struggling defenders if they want to claw out a series victory.
Betting Analysis & Pick
Two regulation wins for Montreal so far come as a fair result given the way the contests have been played. Winnipeg will certainly bring its most desperate effort here, but I just do not see the Jets controlling play often at 5-on-5 against this Montreal group.
Winnipeg does have a few game breakers to prove me wrong here and a spectacular goalie in their own right, but I just think that overall Montreal should continue to control most of the play specifically against the Jets’ depth lines and bottom-two defensive pairings.
Stastny possibly returning offers some upside, and you have to think the top trio for the Jets will show better than they have so far in the series. But I still believe that Montreal’s depth should cause problems for the Jets, specifically some of Winnipeg’s depth defensemen who I think will have a hard time hiding out.
Winnipeg will likely find a way to keep it close, but I still see enough value with backing Montreal to take the commanding 3-0 series lead at -135. I also think that the under 5.5 is a very reasonable play.
Pick: Montreal -135