Jets vs. Canadiens series preview

Francois Lacasse / National Hockey League / Getty

The Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens will meet in the second round for North Division supremacy - as we all expected. Actually, if you read my North Division playoff preview, you might have seen this coming.

Instead of a Connor McDavid vs. Auston Matthews second-round series, we get Connor Hellebuyck vs. Carey Price - a fascinating duel between two of the league's best and hottest goaltenders.

3. Jets (-135) vs. 4. Canadiens (+115)

Overall

JETS STAT CANADIENS
30-23-3 Record 24-21-11
6-3-0 H2H 3-3-3
46.79 (23rd) xGF%* 53.00 (11th)
48.3 (18th) CF%* 54.31 (6th)
44.63 (29th) HDCF%* 51.88 (12th)
8.6 (9th) SH%* 7.52 (25th)
.923 (6th) SV%* .914 (21st)
23.0 (7th) PP% 19.2 (17th)
80.5 (13th) PK% 78.5 (23rd)

*five-on-five

Head-to-head

DATE HOME-AWAY xG* CF%* HDCF* GOALIES
2/25 WPG 6 - MTL 3 1.95 - 1.91 47.84 - 52.16 6 - 11 Hellebuyck - Price
2/27 WPG 2 - MTL 1 OT 1.18 - 2.91 24.34 - 75.66 8 - 12 Hellebuyck - Allen
3/4 MTL 3 - WPG 4 OT 1 - 2.38 52.4 - 47.6 5 - 11  Allen - Hellebuyck
3/6 MTL 7 - WPG 1 2.12 - 2.03 52.43 - 47.57 10 - 8 Price - Hellebuyck
3/15 WPG 2 - MTL 4 2.37 - 2.37 47.82 - 52.18 12 - 10 Hellebuyck - Price
3/17 WPG 4 - MTL 3 OT 1.93 - 2.82 40.71 - 59.29 8 - 14 Hellebuyck - Price
4/8 MTL 2 - WPG 4 1.5 - 1.9 48.8 - 51.2 8 - 9 Allen - Hellebuyck
4/10 MTL 0 - WPG 5 0.98 - 2.03 37.15 - 62.85 6 - 9 Allen - Hellebuyck
5/30 MTL 5 - WPG 3 2.71 - 1.15 65.36 - 34.64 12 - 7 Allen - Hellebuyck

*all strengths

The Canadiens face a quick turnaround after their Game 7 win in Toronto on Monday, with Game 1 scheduled in Winnipeg on Wednesday. As thrilling as their first-round series against the Maple Leafs was, it puts them at something of a disadvantage in the second round.

Wednesday's opener will be especially tricky - it's a prime letdown spot after an emotional and improbable comeback, and the Jets are well rested. But that's only the start. Montreal's going to have a very tough time getting any rest. The Canadiens played seven games in 12 nights against Toronto, and have just one night off before playing Games 1-4 against Winnipeg over a six-day span (including one back-to-back). Meanwhile, the Jets haven't played since May 24, resting and getting some key players - especially Nikolaj Ehlers and Pierre-Luc Dubois - healthy.

Downtime was a decisive factor during the nine regular-season meetings between these teams, as well, with Montreal's compressed schedule resulting in the club being at a rest disadvantage in seven of the nine games (which was reflected in its overall 3-3-3 record). But it's a lot tougher to ramp up the intensity for a third game in four nights on a random weeknight in February than it is when stakes are raised in the playoffs, and the Canadiens hope they'll be buoyed again by having fans back in the Bell Centre stands, as was clearly the case in Game 6 against Toronto.

There's also an argument to be made that being locked in and feeling that playoff intensity every other night is actually beneficial to teams in the postseason, so the long layoff could potentially hurt the Jets. Teams didn't have extended breaks between series in last year's playoffs, but in 2019, three teams won via sweep and had at least nine days off before the next round, and all three of them lost after their lengthy layoff.

Despite the difficult circumstances in the majority of the Canadiens' games against Winnipeg, they got the better of the Jets at five-on-five. The Canadiens held an edge in xGF% and HDCF%, along with a massive advantage in CF% over nine meetings. And there's every reason to expect more of the same in this series.

The Jets allowed 11.47 high-danger chances per 60 minutes in the regular season, by far the worst mark among playoff teams, while generating only 9.25 per 60. That troublesome trend continued against Edmonton. The Oilers were middle of the road in both chance creation and prevention during the regular season - both areas Montreal had success in - and despite being swept by Winnipeg, they led the first round with a whopping 13.84 HDCF/60. The Jets not only allowed a lot of quality chances, they also struggled to generate much, posting a 39.39 HDCF% and 41.29 xGF% - both bottom-two marks in the first round.

Being out-chanced and out-possessed is hardly new to this Winnipeg team; it survives thanks to its high-end attack and elite goalie. The Jets' bounty of capable scorers up front helps them convert a higher rate of their chances, while defensively they lean into their best asset: Hellebuyck. They have an innate ability to withstand pressure and hit teams on the counter - it's why poorer underlying metrics aren't always indicative of their success. What they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality.

It was the formula the Jets used against the Canadiens this season, too. Despite being significantly out-chanced, they shot a terrific 10.16% at five-on-five, and an even more impressive 13.56% in their six wins over Montreal. Hellebuyck posted a .937 SV% in those victories, compared to .868 in the three losses. Despite Hellebuyck's excellence and Winnipeg's quality up front, marks of 13.56% and .937 shout regression. A locked in Price or any slips from Hellebuyck could prove catastrophic for the Jets.

Special teams will also prove crucial for Winnipeg. They were a driving force behind its success in Round 1, while Montreal struggled early against Toronto. The Canadiens were 0-for-14 through five games before breaking through with three power-play goals over the final two. They need to build off that momentum, as another anemic run could cripple their chances. It won't be easy against a Winnipeg team that held the Oilers' top-ranked power play to under 20% in the first round.

Montreal's penalty kill was excellent while its power play struggled. The Canadiens held the Leafs to only three goals on 23 opportunities, though Toronto's power play was miserable for some time in advance of the playoffs. The Jets are much more efficient and productive when up a man, ranking seventh during the regular season, and were a top-five unit in the league before going 2-for-22 without Ehlers over the final nine games of the season. They went 3-for-10 against an Edmonton penalty kill that ranked top 10 in the league this year, while Montreal's finished in the league's bottom half.

If the Habs can maintain respectable numbers on special teams, the series will be there for the taking thanks to their strong five-on-five play. Winnipeg's weak defensive corps was exposed in Round 1 - only the Blues and Capitals allowed more xGF/60 at five-on-five - and is set for an even tougher matchup against a deep Canadiens forward group.

Montreal runs four lines and forechecks aggressively, which will place added pressure on a weak Jets defense and force it into quicker decisions with the puck. That typically leads to turnovers, as we saw with Toronto's Travis Dermott and Rasmus Sandin.

Hellebuyck covered up the Jets' defensive deficiencies in Round 1 by saving a ridiculous 6.82 goals above expected - by far the highest mark of the playoffs despite the fact he's played only four games. His exploits are something the club's become accustomed to, but it leaves Winnipeg with a very small margin for error. Anything but excellence from their netminder and the Jets are in big trouble.

Price faces similar pressure in Montreal, but he doesn't have to be otherworldly in order for the club to be successful. Montreal's team defense is far superior to Winnipeg's - it's a much more sustainable model. The Jets allowed 60 high-danger chances in the first round compared to 59 allowed by the Canadiens, and Montreal played three more games. That's extreme pressure on a goalie, and sooner or later, whether it's in Round 2 or beyond, it'll catch up to Winnipeg eventually.

Pick: Canadiens (+115)

Alex Moretto is theScore's supervising editor of sports betting. Find him on Twitter @alexjmoretto.

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Jets vs. Canadiens series preview
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