Toronto Maple Leafs vs Vancouver Canucks

7 p.m. on Sportsnet Ontario, TVAS, and Sportsnet Pacific

The last of three games against the Canucks is tonight, and the Leafs have a chance to make it three wins in a row. After this, Toronto visits Vancouver in March and again in April for two-game series, and then play the final game near the end of the season at home. That end-of-season game seems a long way off, but with this shortened season some things are already clear about the standings.

Last season, with an expanded playoffs, the points percentage needed to get into the Qualifying Round was .500. The Montreal Canadiens squeaked in with that figure and sailed into round one of the actual playoffs after a victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Vancouver Canucks took a .565 (a more normal cut-off to be in the top 16) into the playoffs and beat the Stanley Cup Champions in round one, giving them an outsized view of their team strengths.

This season is anything but normal, and each division will have its own separate cut-off point between the fourth and fifth teams. Right now, with a massive variation in games played between several with only nine and Vancouver with 15, the divisional break points are:

  • North: .500
  • East: .556
  • Central: .667
  • West: .545/

The North is the only division with three teams below .500, and the East has zero. There might be more parity in the league this year, but it’s not universal across divisions. It’s very early in the season, and the eventual order will be dramatically different to what it is now in most divisions.

Except, it’s not that early.

Vancouver just played, and lost, the game that puts them over 14 of the regular-season games played. They have lost so many games already, that they are more in danger of being passed by the hapless Senators than moving up to overtake Edmonton and Calgary for a playoff spot. When there are only 56 games (perhaps) in a season, you really can blow it in the first month.

I don’t think it’s too early to call a few things so improbable as to be impossible. This is the points percentage needed by each team in the North Division to get to .565 at game 56.

Points % Needed to get to .565

TeamP%P% to get to .565

Ottawa, who have slightly better five-on-five results than the Canucks, would need to go on a tear for their 44 games remaining the like of which only the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Boston Bruins have done in recent memory. That’s just to make the playoffs. They’d need to transform into an elite team overnight. It’s not going to happen; they’re already done.

Vancouver — forget their points because, by percentage, they are second last — is almost as bad, has fewer games to make up the difference in, and are not going to play at a .625 the rest of the year.

Now look at the top two. With points percentages over .750, Montreal and Toronto are unlikely to keep winning at that pace, but they’ve pretty much locked up a playoff spot already. Both teams are good enough, and the division contains opponents bad enough, that even major injury woes shouldn’t make them play at .500 for the rest of the season. It’s not technically impossible, but it effectively is.

Both teams played below their expectations for themselves last season, and Montreal hit .500 on the season. Both teams are better, and with a hot start, they really have to be considered favourites to go one and two.

I keep wanting to say it’s too early to say this, but it isn’t. Vancouver has fewer than half a normal season’s games left to play, and we have no guarantee that this season will actually be 56 games long. The North Division has had no postponements so far, and very limited numbers of players on the COVID protocol list. Only one or two were definitely there for reasons other than travel and quarantine. But that can change, and the short runway to make up ground can get shorter, more compacted, and harder to navigate. Nothing is likely to make this season easier in the North than it is right now.

Maple Leafs Lines

Zach Hyman — Auston Matthews — Mitch Marner
William Nylander — John Tavares — whoever is handy from the bottom six
Jimmy Vesey — Alex Kerfoot — Ilya Mikheyev
Alex Barabanov — Travis Boyd — Jason Spezza

Morgan Rielly — T.J. Brodie
Jake Muzzin — Justin Holl
Mikko Lehtonen — Zach Bogosian
Rasmus Sandin

Frederik Andersen
Michael Hutchinson

Note: Tavares is actually in the bumper spot and Hyman is net-front.

Vancouver Canucks Lines

Most recent lines

J.T. Miller — Elias Pettersson — Brock Boeser
Tanner Pearson — Bo Horvat — Loui Eriksson
Justin Bailey — Brandon Sutter — Nils Hoglander
Tyler Motte — Jay Beagle — Antoine Roussel

Nate Schmidt — Tyler Myers
Quinn Hughes — Jordie Benn
Alexander Edler — Oli Juolevi (said to be in, so I’m going to assume poor Jalen Chatfield comes out)

Braden Holtby
Thatcher Demko

Holtby - Andersen will be the matchup again. See you at 7!