NHL picks: 4 best bets for Canadiens vs Jets
Our NHL expert has picked out his four best bets for Game 1 between the Montreal Canadiens and the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night.
The Jets have been biding their time and waiting for the Montreal Canadiens to finish up their series, doing so in dramatic fashion by coming back from a 3-1 deficit to upset the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s been more than 10 days since the Jets last played a game, finishing off an impressive sweep of the high-flying Edmonton Oilers.
This series is a better matchup for the Jets than Toronto would have been. The Habs don’t have as many offensive weapons, but they do have Carey Price. Meanwhile, the Jets are countering with Connor Hellebuyck who was the best goaltender in the North Division all season. It’s two former Vezina Trophy winners going head-to-head, which should be a treat for hockey fans. It also makes things a little trickier for bettors. Either one of these goalies is capable of stealing games when their respective teams are not at their best.
Game 1 is another instance of the age-old question: does a long layoff make a team more rested or more rusty? As we saw recently with the Colorado Avalanche rolling over the Golden Knights in Game 1 of their series, rest can definitely help. The Habs are only two days removed from their emotional victory over their historic rivals. The Jets, meanwhile, had time to get healthier – especially Nikolaj Ehlers, who missed the early portion of the Oilers series before coming back and playing excellent hockey.
With the Jets playing at home, giving them a chance to stay in their regular routine as they head into the series, plus the fact that Winnipeg won six of the nine meetings between the two teams this year, gives me reason to push the Jets as the Game 1 winners. Montreal is going to make this a series, but the Jets have a little more in their arsenal to challenge Price and perhaps a weary Habs squad.
You’ve got two of the best goaltenders in the postseason so far, with Connor Hellebuyck owning a league-best .950 save percentage and Price sporting a .932 mark. With both of those goalies on a bit of a heater this postseason, I don’t think we’re going to see a ton of goals popped in, at least not in Game 1.
The Habs have been committed to playing tight defense in front of their goaltender, too. They were stingy in Game 7, just not allowing a ton of great scoring chances in the game. They’re so competitive on pucks as well.
The Jets might be a bit quicker top to bottom than Toronto was, which will pose some challenges, but they also just spent a series shutting down one of the best scoring teams in the league over four straight games. The Habs don’t have comparable weapons to Edmonton.
The speed Ehlers plays with is going to challenge Montreal’s blue line a great deal. The Jets’ transition game is especially strong with Ehlers on the ice and I believe that will end up being one of the significant differences in the game.
Ehlers scored four goals and had nine points in eight games against Montreal during the regular season, and has been nearly a point-per-game player against the Habs in his career.
Given that he’s had a few more days to rest his injury and get closer to full strength, that’s bad news for Montreal. Especially with how strong he came back against the Edmonton Oilers.
The Winnipeg Jets averaged less than three penalties for and against in their first-round series against the Edmonton Oilers. Some have said that the refs let a lot go in that series and that very well may be true as the Oilers tend to draw a lot more penalties.
That said, I have a hard time seeing eight minor penalties being called in Game 1. These teams are largely disciplined, and there’s not much passion or emotion in terms of rivalries heading into the first game.
I just don’t see a ton of whistles in this one.