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Freaky Friday (but on Thursday)

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The Canadiens and Leafs switched chance-generating identities in Game 1, and the most dangerous team won.

It started out like any other Thursday night. I booed a guy on the street wearing an Auston Mathews jersey, got pulled over by the police in my car for a rolling stop (allegedly), and the Montreal Canadiens took a 1-0 series lead against the heavily favored Toronto Maple Leafs.

The feelings were nothing but positive, but the numbers were … odd. It’s like someone switched the two teams. During the regular season, Montreal had been a Corsi behemoth, dominating shot attempts. According to Natural Stat Trick, at five-on-five, Montreal had the second-best Corsi-for percentage in the league. Toronto, on the other hand, was 11th. Last night, Montreal controlled an abysmal 43.9% of the shot attempts in all situations.

The Leafs stole Montreal’s shot-attempt prowess, but the Habs took something from their rival to compensate. During the regular season, the leafs had the fourth-best expected-goals-for percentage (xGF%) in the league, while Montreal was 19th. This stat is gathered by taking into account where a shot comes from and what chance it has of going in. This gives you a model to determine how many goals a league-average goalie would let in. Last night, in all situations, Montreal had a 54.9% of the expected goals.

Montreal struggled with this stat all season long due to a lot of perimeter play and point shots. The Leafs dominated xGF% because they got a lot of high-quality chances and rebounds. So what happened last night? Simply, Montreal launched fewer of the shots, but had the more from high-danger areas.

This brings me to someone who had a terrible statistical game but did his job well: Joel Edmundson. At five-on-five, he underperformed the team average with a pitiful 40.0% Corsi-for and an xGF% of 33.6%. Normally I would call numbers like that bad and not go too far into it. But he made a few defensive plays that caught my eye.

With 14:06 left in the first period, Montreal was breaking out of its zone when Mitch Marner forced a turnover before he reached the blue line. The puck went to Mathews, who tried to put it over to Zach Hyman. But Edmundson had read the turnover and stuck with Hyman to intercept the pass.

That and a few other plays made me want to dig a little deeper. The three players Edmundson played against the most were Marner, Mathews, and Hyman. Other than while playing against those players he had sparkling numbers. As if shutting them down wasn’t hard enough, he received just two offensive-zone draws, four in the neutral zone, and seven defensive-zone draws. They were tough matchups, and in a tough deployment.

Good thing the faceoff percentage was up to help him and the rest of the defence out in those situations!