Playoff Primer: North Division Preview

Playoff Primer: North Division Preview

Following a modified 56-game schedule that exclusively featured inter-division matchups, the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs are about to bring us two more rounds of divisional clashes. RotoWire will bring you a breakdown of each division ahead of the start of postseason play. Kyle Riley will provide a deep dive into the North Division matchups below.

Toronto Maple Leafs (1) vs Montreal Canadiens (4)

The Maple Leafs dominated the regular-season series between these two teams, going 7-2-1 while outscoring the Canadiens 34-25. Toronto also closed out the regular season strong, going 7-1-2 in its last ten games, whereas Montreal stumbled a bit down the stretch, going 4-4-2 in its last 10 contests, setting up what could be a quick exit from the playoffs for the Habs. 

Up Front

Maple Leafs: The Maple Leafs had one of the best offenses in the NHL this season, averaging an impressive 3.32 goals per game, good for sixth in the NHL. Toronto's attack was led by 23-year-old superstar Auston Matthews, who is set to win his first Rocket Richard after racking up 41 goals and 25 helpers through 52 games this campaign. Impressively, Matthews' performance wasn't enough to lead his team in overall scoring, as Mitch Marner claimed that title with his eye-popping 67-point performance through 55 contests. That duo of dynamic youngsters will be complemented by several key veteran pieces including John Tavares (19 goals, 50 points in 56 games) and Zach Hyman (15 goals, 33 points in 43 contests), who appears to be on track to return to action for Game 1 after missing the final 11 matches of the regular season with a knee injury. The 25-year-old William Nylander also shouldn't be overlooked – he put up 17 goals and 42 points in 51 regular-season contests and was red hot down the stretch, racking up 12 points through his last 12 contests.

Canadiens: The Canadiens' offensive firepower pales in comparison to the Maple Leafs – Montreal only averaged 2.82 goals per game during the regular season, 17th in the NHL. Tyler Toffoli was the driving force behind much of the Habs' offense this year, leading the team with 28 goals and 44 points through 52 contests. Nick Suzuki wasn't far behind in the points department with 41 in 56 contests, but after that, the Canadiens' production from its forward group falls off a cliff. Tomas Tatar is next in line with an unnoteworthy 30 points in 50 contests, with Josh Anderson and Philip Danault both tied for fourth in points among Montreal forwards with just 24 through 52 and 53 games respectively. The good news for the Canadiens is Brendan Gallagher (14 goals, 23 points in 35 contests) is expected back for Game 1 after missing the final 21 matches of the regular season with a broken thumb, and he's really the heart and soul of the Habs' forward group. Cole Caufield could also factor in after picking up four goals and five points in his first 10 NHL contests at the end of the regular season, but in a puzzling move, it appears coach Dominique Ducharme may decide to make the diminutive goal-scorer a healthy scratch for Game 1. 

The Blue Line

Maple Leafs: Most of Toronto's offensive production from the blue line once again came by way of Morgan Rielly, who finished the regular season with an admirable five goals, 35 points and 101 shots on net in 55 contests. Jake Muzzin wasn't far behind, however, contributing four goals, 27 points and 103 shots on net through 53 games. Justin Holl (two goals, 20 points in 55 contests) and T.J. Brodie (one goal, 14 points in 56 games) will also chip in with the occasional point, but the rest of the Maple Leafs' blue-line group shouldn't be expected to contribute from an offensive standpoint in this series. 

Canadiens: Jeff Petry (undisclosed) has grown into one of the NHL's most reliable offensive-minded defender's over the past four seasons, and that didn't change in 2020-21, as he finished with an impressive 12 goals and 42 points in 55 contests. He'll quarterback the Canadiens' No. 1 power-play unit against Toronto. After Petry, Shea Weber is really the only other Montreal blueliner capable of making a splash offensively, but injuries and age have seemingly caught up with the 35-year-old, as he finished the regular season with just 19 points through 48 contests. 

Between the Pipes

Maple Leafs: Frederik Andersen wasn't great through the first two months of the season, going 13-8-2 while posting a sub-par 2.91 GAA and .897 save percentage. To make matters worse for the Danish netminder, he then suffered a lower-body injury that kept him sidelined for over seven weeks, opening the door for Jack Campbell to take over as Toronto's No. 1 netminder. Campbell ran away with the opportunity, finishing the regular season with a 17-3-2 record and an impressive 2.15 GAA and .921 save percentage. Both netminders are now healthy, and at this point it remains a mystery who the Maple Leafs will go with for Game 1. Andersen has 53 games of playoff experience under his belt and Campbell has none, which could factor into coach Sheldon Keefe's decision. 

Canadiens: Carey Price missed the final 13 games of the campaign with a concussion, but he appears to be on track to be ready for Game 1 versus Toronto. The 33-year-old netminder struggled at times this season, finishing the year with a 12-7-5 record and a disappointing 2.64 GAA and .901 save percentage. Nonetheless, as long as he's healthy, he'll be locked in as Montreal's No. 1 netminder throughout the playoffs. 

Series Prediction

I think the Maple Leafs have the advantage in every aspect except maybe goaltending, and that's a big maybe. Even if Carey Price is able to stand on his head and rediscover his vintage form, Toronto should make quick work of Montreal in this one. Leafs in five. 

Edmonton Oilers (2) vs Winnipeg Jets (3)

The Oilers ran over the Jets during the regular season, going 7-2-0 while outscoring Winnipeg 34-22. The Jets also stumbled down the stretch, going 3-7-0 in their last 10 contests, while Edmonton finished the season as one of the hottest teams in the NHL, going 8-2-0 in its last 10 games. Unless Winnipeg is able to return to its midseason form, Connor McDavid and pals could make quick work of the Jets. 

Up Front

Oilers: The Oilers have the best player in the league up front in Connor McDavid, who put together another astonishing season this year, racking up 33 goals and 104 points in 55 games, securing the NHL's scoring title for the third time in the past five campaigns. Edmonton also has arguably the second best forward in the league in Leon Draisaitl, who finished second in scoring behind McDavid with 31 goals and 83 points in 55 contests. While that dynamic duo will understandably dominate all the headlines among the Oilers' forward group, the team also has several key complementary pieces up front in Ryan-Nugent Hopkins (16 goals, 35 points in 51 games), Jesse Puljujarvi (15 goals, 25 points in 54 contests) and Kailer Yamamoto (eight goals, 21 points in 52 games).

Jets: The Jets have one of the more well-rounded and formidable top-six forward groups in the NHL, with Mark Scheifele (21 goals, 63 points in 56 contests), Kyle Connor (26 goals, 50 points in 56 games), Nikolaj Ehlers (21 goals, 46 points in 47 games) and Blake Wheeler (15 goals, 46 points in 50 matches) leading the way offensively for Winnipeg. Ehlers is dealing with an upper-body injury, but he has yet to be ruled out of Game 1. Andrew Copp (15 goals, 39 points in 55 games) also shouldn't be overlooked, and Pierre-Luc Dubois (eight goals, 20 points in 41 contests) could find his footing during the playoffs after a relatively slow start to his Jets tenure. 

The Blue Line

Oilers: Offseason addition Tyson Barrie made an already formidable Oilers' power play even more dangerous this season, finishing the campaign with an eye-popping eight goals and 48 points, 23 of which came with the man advantage, in 55 contests. Darnell Nurse also enjoyed a breakout season from an offensive standpoint, setting a new career high in goals with 16 while adding 20 helpers through 55 contests. They'll be responsible for almost all of Edmonton's offensive production from the blue line in this series. 

Jets: Neal Pionk had another strong season in terms of point production this year, racking up three goals, 32 points and 100 shots on net through 54 contests. He'll be tasked with a top-four role at even strength while serving as Winnipeg's No. 1 power-play unit's quarterback versus Edmonton. Josh Morrissey put up a respectable 21 points and 116 shots on goal in 56 regular-season contests this year, and he'll man the point on the Jets' second power-play unit during the playoffs. Aside from those two skaters, fantasy managers shouldn't expect to see significant offensive contributions from Winnipeg's blue-line group. 

Between the Pipes

Oilers: Edmonton's Achilles heel has undoubtedly been its goaltending, but Mike Smith was excellent as the team's preferred option during the regular season, going 21-6-2 while posting an admirable 2.31 GAA and .923 save percentage. He'll enter the playoffs as the Oilers' unquestioned No. 1 netminder. 

Jets: Connor Hellebuyck had a bit of a down year following his Vezina Trophy winning performance in 2019-20, finishing the regular season with a 24-17-3 record with a 2.58 GAA and a .916 save percentage. However, don't let those numbers fool you, as he was often the victim of poor defensive play by his teammates and has been as good as ever this year. If he catches fire, Hellebuyck could make this a compelling series. 

Series Prediction

The regular season record between these two clubs would seem to suggest this may be a quick series, but I think the Jets will tighten up and make this closer than most expect. Nonetheless, I still see the Oilers' offensive firepower eventually proving too much for Winnipeg. Edmonton in seven. 

RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NHL Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NHL fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kyle Riley
Kyle is RotoWire's NHL Editor and has been covering all things hockey for the website since 2015. He's an avid Chicago Blackhawks fan and a proud UW-Madison alum.
Yahoo DFS Hockey: Friday Picks
Yahoo DFS Hockey: Friday Picks
DraftKings NHL: Friday-Saturday Breakdown
DraftKings NHL: Friday-Saturday Breakdown
FanDuel NHL: Friday Targets
FanDuel NHL: Friday Targets
DraftKings NHL: Thursday-Friday Breakdown
DraftKings NHL: Thursday-Friday Breakdown
Yahoo DFS Hockey: Thursday Picks
Yahoo DFS Hockey: Thursday Picks
FanDuel NHL: Thursday Targets
FanDuel NHL: Thursday Targets