After a thrilling first round of playoff hockey, the final matchup has been set for Round 2 after the Canadiens and Jets pulled off unlikely victories, albeit in very different ways.
No. 4 Montreal Canadiens vs. No. 3 Winnipeg Jets
This is a different Jets team than the one I was tasked with handicapping in heading into their series versus the Edmonton Oilers. It was unknown whether Nikolaj Ehlers, the Jets’ best forward, would be available in the first round. Ehlers did miss the first two games, but when he returned in the third game, he was a difference-maker and played a big part in helping the Jets pull off the unlikely sweep. The Jets are now a much easier team to gauge entering the second round.
First of all, they match up quite well with the Canadiens, but it’s not easy to see. The Jets have been consistently underrated by public models that take shot quality into account and, therefore, their chances of winning a given game are often underestimated by anyone who is leaning too heavily into expected goals. Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s a great metric. It just doesn’t hasn’t done a good job of capturing the true talent of the Winnipeg Jets for one reason or another. Goaltending is obviously a factor, but the Jets also have scored more goals than expected.
In fact, if you view the Canadiens and Jets through the lens of expected goals over the last two regular seasons, you’ll see that these models have been on the wrong side of both teams. The Canadiens have underperformed their expected goals by three percentage points in 2019-20 and two percentage points in 2020-21, while the Jets outperformed expectations by six percentage points last season and five this season.
Furthermore, if we compare each team's share of five-on-five expected goals in Round 1 to their actual goal share, only the Capitals and Blues were worse than the Jets and Canadiens, who controlled only 41% and 44% of the expected goals, respectively. However, the Jets controlled 59% of the goals in reality, while the Canadiens’ goal share sat at 44% after their seven-game series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
At this point, we can have a pretty high degree of confidence that the goal share is a better reflection of the true talent of both teams than the expected goal share. The fact that the Jets also went 6-3 straight up against the Canadiens during the regular season while controlling the expected goals in six of nine meetings and owning slightly more than 50% overall bodes well for them in this matchup. The playoffs are a clean slate, though, and the Canadiens have the tools to make life hard on the Jets every time they hit the ice. Goaltender Carey Price has a high ceiling and is capable of stealing a series, but Connor Hellebuyck is clearly the best goaltender in this series. Now, whether that edge in goal, and the other advantages that the Jets seem to enjoy translates to a series win remains to be seen.
Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be any value in betting either team to win the series, at least not at the current odds being offered by DraftKings. The Jets are listed as the series favorite and carry a -130 price tag while the Canadiens are listed at + 107. If you’re interested in betting on the exact outcome of the series, consider “Winnipeg Jets to win 4-1” at + 650. There’s a little bit of value in betting on the Jets to surprise everyone again. I’ll be taking a game-by-game approach to betting this series, but I might not get involved until the second game.
The Jets are a -132 favorite on the moneyline, and that likely has to do with the fact that they have a rest advantage. Although we’ve seen teams like the Bruins and Avalanche come out of the gate strong after a long break, it’s important to remember that they are elite teams. The Jets are likely nothing more than an average team in the grand scheme of things. I’ll be passing on the series opener unless the Jets’ odds come down or the Canadiens’ odds go way up. The game opened at around -115, and it was never going to hang around at that price until Wednesday.