Maple Leafs at Senators – NHL Pick for October 21st
It’s the third Saturday of the NHL season and as usual, we have a pretty full slate of games. We continue to see teams not expected to do much in 2017-18 to excel early in the season. The four division leaders are the Tampa Bay Lightning, New Jersey Devils, St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings.
Other than the Blues none of those clubs were playoff bound last season. Although the Lightning were considered a favorite in the East heading into the season, the Blues, Devils and Kings were all expected to be in the bottom third of the league.
On the flipside, the four teams in last place are the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and the Arizona Coyotes. Other than the Coyotes the other three were all playoff teams last year. The Habs, Rangers and Wild all sit on 4 points. Another team on 4 points is the Edmonton Oilers.
The preseason favorite to lift the cup is only ahead of those Coyotes in the division. Truly a remarkable start to the year but can it continue? Are teams like the Golden Knights, Devils and the Avalanche for real? And is it the end of an era for the Canadiens, Rangers and Sharks? So far, the trend is young, speedy teams getting wins and the veteran squads coming up short. I think this will continue for a few more weeks until adjustments are made and the offense slows down. We have 24 teams in action, 12 games in all, so let’s get to it!!
- Toronto Maple Leafs (-120) at Ottawa Senators (EVEN)
It’s round 1 of the Battle of Ontario for the 2017-18 season. These two teams and fanbases do not like each other. The bad blood dates back to the late 90’s and early 2000’s when the two sides would regularly meet in the playoffs. Although the two haven’t hooked up in the postseason for some time there is always a lot on the line when these two teams meet.
Oddly enough before play on Saturday, if the playoffs started right now the Sens and Leafs would meet in the 1st round. It’s a bit soon to look at playoff matchups but these two clubs are on the upswing so a playoff series may be in the cards. For now, we will take the head-to-head regular-season matchups.
At 6-1-0 the Leafs sit just one point behind the Lightning for tops in the NHL. It’s been a long time for this team to have the optimism and even expectation to do big things heading into a new season. Toronto is stacked with young talent in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. That trio lit the league on fire in their rookie campaigns last season and so far, are heading in the right direction.
Toronto is 3-0-0 on the road this year and this one is in Ottawa. Everything seems to be going the Leafs’ way early in the 2017-18 and they’ll try to keep that roll going against their arch-rivals.
The Senators were one game away from playing in last year’s Stanley Cup Final. They would inevitably fall to the Penguins but are certainly looking for more this year. The team isn’t flashy. Head coach Guy Boucher has his team play a very solid defensive minded game.
They have just a single loss in regulation with a 3-1-3 record. The fact that almost half of their games have gone to OT or a Shootout shows how patient a team they are. They do not push forward on a lot of occasions. They were without their captain Erik Karlsson to start the year but he’s back and in his usual Norris-like form.
The Maple Leafs offense simply put is the best in the NHL. They are scoring seemingly at will and have tallied an average of 4.9 goals a game, 1st in the league. In their last outing, they had 4 goals on 5 shots going on to a 6-3 win in Detroit. That firepower can’t be matched on a nightly basis by almost any other club. Not surprisingly Auston Matthews is leading the team. His 6 goals and 10 points are tops on the team.
Nazem Kadri is having a nice start to the year as well. He has 4 goals and 4 assists good for 8 points, second on the team. Perhaps the one issue is Mitch Marner. The sophomore netted 19 goals and 42 assists in 2016-17. This year he has just a goal and 3 assists but more alarming is that he is skating on the 4th-line. This may be head coach Mike Babcock challenging the young winger but if he turns things around the offense may be even better in Toronto. The Power Play is also tops in the league clicking at a 30% rate.
The Sens do not put the puck in the net like their provincial counterpart. They have scored an average of 3.3 goals a game ranked 12th in the NHL. However, that’s quite a bit higher than last year where they were in the bottom third of the league in goals per game.
Kyle Turris leads the team in points with 8. Derrick Brassard’s 4 goals are tops on the team. They haven’t had much secondary scoring either. Five players have scored 16 of the Sens’ 24 goals this season. For a team that doesn’t score a lot as it is they will need their 3rd and 4th lines to add some production. The Power Play is struggling too. They are 17th in the NHL converting just under 19% of the time.
The Leafs have done a poor job keeping the puck out of their own net. They have allowed 3.1 goals a game. That’s ranked 17th in the NHL. The defensive unit has been led by Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardiner in year’s past. This may ring true again but at the moment is Nikita Zaitsev. The Russian leads the team in minutes per game averaging 23:00. He is also a +10 which is tied for the lead on the club. The addition of veteran Ron Hainsey from Pittsburgh has also helped the young Leaf defense core.
Ottawa is a defensive club and it has shown early this year. They are 3rd in the NHL giving up just 2.3 goals a game. They’ve also killed off 95.2% of their penalties good for 2nd in the league. Erik Karlsson is the key cog on the blueline. He missed the first 5 games but has 3 points in his first 2 games. He also leads the team in minutes per game. They’ll need him at his best against the high-flying Leafs.
Frederik Andersen hasn’t been spectacular this season. He owns a 3.14 GAA and a .899 save percentage but he is also 5-1-0. His job is clearly just to keep his team in the game long enough for them to score a pile of goals. Having said that he has a career 2.47 GAA and .917 save percentage so he is a solid goalie and his numbers should come down as the year goes on.
Craig Anderson’s numbers are far more impressive. He has a 2.40 GAA and a .917 save percentage. His record, however, a meager 2-1-3. Such is the case when your offense doesn’t score almost 5 goals a game.
- Auston Matthews v. Erik Karlsson
This will be the toughest test for Matthews to date this season. He has 6 goals already this year including 2 OT winners. He has been the best player on the ice in every game he’s played but Karlsson is a different beast. The Sens get the last change as the home team and expect Karlsson out against Matthews all night long.
Toronto has been so explosive this year it’s hard to imagine the Sens can keep pace. If the Leafs get an early lead Ottawa will struggle to come back and not allow tons of chances on the counter-attack. I will go with Toronto in this one and the under.