The Warmup - Who would you prefer the Habs face in the playoffs?

USA TODAY Sports

The Canadiens have yet to clinch a playoff spot mathematically, but they're all but assured to have one. It's high time we begin talking about What teams we'd rather face.

There are five teams right now that the Canadiens could face in the NHL playoffs, assuming that the Montreal Canadiens hold on to at the least home ice advantage, which shouldn't be an absurd notion considering how this team has played. My question for you is, who would you rather the Habs play, and why? We'll go through them from best to worst record:

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs currently have a 22-13-4 record for 48 points (8 fewer points than Montreal), but are tied with the Habs for the second most regulation/overtime wins in the Eastern Conference with 22. They have a +12 goal differential on the back of the 4th most potent offense in the East. The Leafs hold the distinction of being the worst possession team in a playoff position, with just a 45.18% Fenwick while the score is close. The Leafs are riding percentages though, with the NHL's highest PDO at 1030, boosted by a 10.55% shooting percentage at even strength. Being a short season however, there is no guarantee that they will regress to normal for a first round opponent, so they could be dangerous. The Canadiens are 1-2-0 against the Leafs so far this season.

Ottawa Senators

The Senators currently have a 19-14-6 record for 44 points, with just 15 regulation or overtime wins, the fewest of any Eastern Conference currently in a playoff position. They have a +8 goal differential while riding the NHL's best goaltending. In spite of losing Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza for nearly the entire season, Ottawa has managed to stay marginally above water with a 50.21% Fenwick while the score is close. I don't believe that Craig Anderson or Robin Lehner are world class goaltenders, but there is a real chance that Erik Karlsson could return this season, and if he does, the Senators become a much, much more dangerous team. The Canadiens went 2-1-1 against the Sens this season.

New York Islanders

The Islanders currently have a 20-16-4 record for 44 points, with 17 regulation or overtime wins. They have a -3 goal differential largely due to having the worst goaltending of any team in the NHL that currently holds a playoff position. The Islanders are finally blossoming after upgrading their defense with Visnovsky, and hold a 50.36 Fenwick while the score is close. While they're one of the weaker teams currently in a playoff position, their run and gun style brutalized the Canadiens in the season series, and their powerplay is absolutely deadly. The Canadiens lost the season series 1-1-1.

New York Rangers

The Rangers currently have a 19-16-4 record for 42 points, with 16 regulation or overtime wins. They have a +2 goal differential while allowing the exact number of goals against per game as the Habs, but scoring 26 fewer goals. The Rangers actually have a stronger Fenwick while the score is close than the Canadiens do, but the Canadiens are far stronger while the score is tied, and while trailing. Why is this relevant? Because the Habs have spent 227 more minutes with the lead than the Rangers have, where score effect will take over, and 317 minutes fewer trailing, where teams tend to outshoot opponents, which puts things in the Rangers' favour. The Habs swept the season series 3-0-0 against the Rangers, outscoring them 9-1 in the process.

New Jersey Devils

The Devils currently have a 15-14-10 record for 40 points, with just 13 regulation or overtime wins. This means that they'll need to outpoint other teams to make the playoffs, as they'll lose every tie breaker. Like the Rangers, the Devils have spend more much more time trailing in games, and much less time leading, and as a result they have a stronger Fenwick close than the Canadiens, but they actually have a stronger Fenwick while the score is tied than the Rangers do. New Jersey has been the 4th unluckiest team in the NHL this season with a PDO of just 979, so they're essentially Toronto's doppleganger. Part of this is less about luck and more about talent, as losing Ilya Kovalchuk for an extended period greatly affects team shooting percentage, and the goaltending tandem of Brodeur and Hedberg is so old they wear onions on their belts. With that said though, puck luck can turn at a moment's notice, which in my mind may make the Devils the most dangerous underdog in the East. The Canadiens are 2-0 against the Devils so far this season.


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