Eastern Edge: Notes from Montreal’s series win over Toronto

Brennan Des

2021-06-01

In this week's Eastern Edge, we'll discuss Montreal's first-round victory over Toronto, paying particular attention to Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Phillip Danault and Erik Gustafsson.

As you've probably seen by now, the Montreal Canadiens stormed back from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games. A major headline from this series was the lack of offense from Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, who combined for just one goal. The popular narrative is that Matthews and Marner choked again and don't have the mental fortitude to thrive in the playoffs. Based on what we've seen from those two so far, it's hard to argue against the validity of that narrative. But we're talking about a 23-year-old and 24-year-old who are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, tasked with saving a franchise and appeasing a passionate fanbase that hasn't seen a playoff win for the past 17 years. Not to mention the heightened expectations and amplified criticism that come with having the third and seventh highest cap hit in the league.  I know for many of you, the fact that they're young and dealing with a lot of pressure doesn't excuse their lack of playoff success. We've seen other superstars like Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane and Steven Stamkos thrive in their earliest playoff appearances. I'd argue that Matthews and Marner face significantly more external pressure than any of those guys faced early on in their careers, but at a certain point in time, you expect your favourite athletes to thrive under pressure, not succumb to it. From a fantasy perspective, Matthews and Marner have enjoyed a lot of regular season success and will be taken off the board early during next year's fantasy drafts – as they should be. However, when playoff pools roll around, they're more likely to be undervalued as a result of their 'choking history'. Of course, that's looking far ahead into an uncertain future, but it is something to keep in mind.

In my opinion, the duo's disappointing playoff performance this year was largely a product of Montreal's solid team defense – with strong individual showings from Carey Price and Phillip Danault. Danault deserves a lot of credit for the shutdown role he played against Matthews and Marner, limiting their space and stifling their offensive creativity. We've seen Danault exhibit the same defensive dominance against Crosby during the play-in round last year and during much of the regular season against