After the NHL season kicked off with three games yesterday, 12 teams will be in action tonight, with six games slated to be played. One of those games features the Toronto Maple Leafs opening up their 2023 campaign at home against the Montreal Canadiens. We’ll preview the matchup before going over why I’ll be targeting the Leafs to have an early lead.
The Maple Leafs got the monkey off their back in terms of winning a playoff series last season, but they would still exit from the postseason immediately after their first-round win. Entering a fresh new season, Toronto maintains the same nucleus, with a freshly extended Auston Matthews leading the charge after an 85-point season last year.
Matthews and guys like Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander led the Leafs to average 3.39 goals per game last season, which was 9th in the league. Toronto will be looking to improve on that number even more with the help of their offseason acquisitions like Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi.
Opening the season in net tonight for Toronto will be Ilya Samsonov, as the 26-year-old is coming off a 2022 season in which he posted a .919% save percentage. In 40 starts, Samsonov allowed an average of 2.33 goals per game, a career-best mark. Following his career year, Samsonov will be up against a Canadiens team that finished in the bottom seven for goals per game last season with an average of 2.77.
Montreal was crushed by the injury bug last season, which resulted in pivotal players like Cole Caufield and Mike Matheson to play less than 50 games. One player who did remain healthy all season was Nick Suzuki, which led to him leading the team with 26 goals and 66 points.
As they look to put last season behind them, Montreal will have Jake Allen as their starting goaltender for tonight’s matchup. Allen started 41 games for Montreal last season and posted a .891% save percentage with an average of 3.55 goals allowed per game.
As expected, the Maple Leafs are big favorites on the moneyline, coming in at (-285), but for my play, I’ll be taking their 1st-period puck-line of (-.5), which is priced at (+108). Toronto features a high-powered offense that only improved this offseason, and now they get to open their season at home against a bottom-five defense in terms of goals allowed per game from last season.
Montreal allowed the fifth most shots per game last year with an average of 33.6 per game, while Toronto was getting off an average of 33.9 per game at home, so the opportunities will be there early for the Maple Leafs. Not only will they be able to get their shots off early, but they’ll be shooting on a goalie in Jake Allen, who finished 33rd out of 52 goalies who played at least 25 games in goals saved above expected.
Ilya Samsonov finished 10th in that same category with 18 goals saved above expected, which does not bode well for a Canadiens team that averaged the 3rd fewest shots per game last season with 27.3. That led to Montreal scoring the 9th fewest goals in the first period. After allowing just 63 first-period goals all last season, I think the Maple Leafs are primed for an early lead on opening night in Toronto.
Toronto Maple Leafs 1P (-.5)(+108) on FanDuel