What a comeback! Or what a horrible choking job! If you listen to the announcers and panelists on Sportsnet and CBC, the Leafs’ lost that series. While they aren’t completely off, they fail miserably as pointing the finger to the true reason: the Montreal Canadiens. Ted Nolan once said that sometimes, we tend to look too deep into what we did wrong instead of looking at what the opponent did right. The Habs had a strategy and they executed it. They made adjustments for game five, six and seven and it paid off. The experience paid off.
Both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens have loaded up with experience this season. The Leafs went flying through the season very smoothly and easily. Perhaps too easily. In fact, they encountered very little adversity or set-back this season. It was smooth sailing, riding the tailcoat of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, who had pretty incredible regular seasons.
On the other hand, the Canadiens struggled with COVID and a very tough schedule, resulting in injuries to key players. When they came back, healthy and rested, they not only gave Toronto all they could handle, but they completely shut them down in the last three games of the series. Yes, the Leafs had yet another epic collapse, blowing a 3-1 series’ lead to lose in seven games to their arch rivals.
When they’ve lost team captain John Tavares in game one, the Leafs couldn’t dig deep enough, long enough to make up for his loss. When Jake Muzzin fell in combat, the team folded like a cheap tent. The Canadiens played a big part of their season without Carey Price, Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher, Ben Chiarot, Joel Armia and Jonathan Drouin, who is still out for personal reasons. Those are all key players in the Montreal line-up.
When the chips went down, the Leafs, who had added Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds to start the season, and Nick Foligno at the deadline, didn’t lack experience. But here’s the biggest difference… Montreal’s experience added was with proven winners. Joel Edmundson, Jake Allen, Corey Perry, Eric Staal and Tyler Toffoli all won the Stanley Cup. All of them know what it takes to go through the battle to win it all. All of them can talk to the Canadiens’ younger players, including young veterans like Brendan Gallagher and Philip Danault, what you need to do to win those battles.
Too big, too strong
As anticipated, the Habs gave it to the Leafs physically all series. You do that one game, no big deal. But the hitting over a gruelling 7-game series takes its toll on the body. Further, the Leafs’ grit is on their bottom-six, guys who play 10-12 minutes a game (for the most part). Their top players, the ones playing 18 to 25 minutes, are very soft as a group.
On the other side, they’re going up against Josh Anderson up front, and have to battle with Weber, Chiarot, Edmundson and Jeff Petry to get to… Carey Price. The Canadiens out-hit the Leafs 294 to 204 in the series, 13 more hits per game! In fact, here are the 10 most utilized players by both teams and the number of hits they had in this series:
|Shea Weber||179:12||21||7||180:39||Morgan Rielly|
|Ben Chiarot||173:40||19||9||173:04||Mitch Marner|
|Jeff Petry||172:21||26||25||167:08||Auston Matthews|
|Joel Edmundson||148:32||21||24||159:56||Zach Hyman|
|Philip Danault||139:29||11||5||158:06||TJ Brodie|
|Nick Suzuki||138:26||21||13||150:19||Justin Holl|
|Tyler Toffoli||131:59||10||5||128:24||William Nylander|
|Josh Anderson||108:37||26||8||120:18||Alex Kerfoot|
|Brendan Gallagher||103:18||15||16||117:00||Jake Muzzin|
|Joel Armia||101:44||24||6||104:57||Zach Bogosian|
Off the Leafs’ top-10 most utilized players, six (6) of them have fewer than 10 hits the entire series! On the Canadiens, none of the 10 most utilized player had fewer than 10 hits, and only two had fewer than 15 hits! Talk about softening up a team. William Nylander, in spite of his offensive production, spent the entire series getting rid of the puck and avoiding physical contact.
Price and Weber
How many Habs’ fans and members of the media have been claiming loud and clear that Carey Price and Shea Weber should be traded, going as far as saying that Weber didn’t belong in the NHL? I’ve heard and read them, I’m sure you have too. Maybe, just maybe, they will see why those two are voted as the best goaltender and one of the defensemen the most difficult to play against, in the NHLPA’s annual poll? Nah… they’ll be hiding in the weeds for them to have an off performance to claim that they were right all along. In true cowardly fashion, ignoring what these guys are doing. In the meantime, the rest of us will enjoy their success and contribution. Go Habs Go!