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NHL North – Habs and Leafs Have Eyes on the Prize
- Updated: February 19, 2021
The National Hockey League (NHL) season kicked off in January 2021, encompassing an array of changes compared to previous seasons. Covid-19 has had a dramatic effect on the global population and sports. The previous 12 months saw a shortened NHL season, with the Stanley Cup playoffs taking place within a bubble in two host Canadian cities, Toronto and Edmonton. The commissioner and all 31 teams have worked together to revert back to some normality for the 2021 season. Changes were made with the aim of helping all of the teams get through this unprecedented full season with minimal disruption to the schedule.
Altering the Divisions
One of the biggest changes for 2021 are the alterations made to each division. The differing Covid-19 laws within Canada and the United States of America has made it near impossible for teams to travel across the border for their usual inter-divisional games. These restrictions have resulted in a complete overhaul of the 4 divisions that ice hockey fans have grown accustomed to. The 7 Canadian teams competing in the NHL were spread across 3 of the 4 divisions pre-2021. They are now all together in the same North division. Teams will now only play the competitors in the same division, resulting in an increased frequency of rivalry games between the Canadian sides, providing increased excitement and interest for fans at hockey betting sites. The 3 divisions consisting of only US teams have also been revamped, grouping teams who are geographically closer together into the same division. This will help reduce travel and hopefully the spread of the ongoing pandemic across the whole NHL network.
How the Season has Started in Scotia North
The beginning of the 2021 NHL season has seen Toronto Maple Leafs taking full control of the North Division with a record of 12-3-2 in their first 17 games. They lead both Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers by 6 points. The Leafs are looking to solidify their Stanley Cup playoff run after narrowly missing out after a disappointing 2020 season. There has also been surprisingly bad starts for the 2020 playoff contenders Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks. Both have a total of 17 points and lie in 5th and 6th place respectively. However, there is still plenty of time left in the season as each team will play a total of 56 games. Games in Scotia North are being played behind closed doors without fans present inside the rinks, giving traveling teams a slightly better advantage. Both the Leafs and Canadiens have benefited from this, going 5-1-1 and 6-0-2 in their away games respectively.
Scotia North is also providing a number of standout rookie performances. There are 4 players in the top 10 of points scored by all rookies so far this season. They include:
- Josh Norris of Ottowa Senators with 10 points.
- Nils Hoglander of Vancouver Canucks with 9 points.
- Tim Stützle of Ottowa Senators with 7 points.
- Jusso Valimaki of Calgary Flames with 6 points.
The rest of the season will be fascinating to see how these rookies will develop and whether they will break into the top 30 players across the entire NHL (top spot is currently held by Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers with 32 points). This division is also providing the league’s best performances and most entertaining games. Highlighted by 7 of the top 10 goal scorers coming from the North (Auston Matthews of the Leafs leading the way with 14) and also 5 of the top 10 players with most assists (Connor McDavid of the Oilers again at top spot with 23). The Senators have been one of the most disappointing teams this season, recording a league low of 9 points from 18 games. We believe they are building for the future by giving a number of their Rookies extra playing time, a potentially great move down the line.
Re-igniting Old Rivalries
No rivalry in the NHL is more intense than the one between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. They are the two oldest teams in the NHL, and the first meeting between the two took place on December 26th 1917! The rivalry between these two great Canadian cities dates back to the 18th Century, before the two ice hockey teams were founded, resulting in an even bigger conflict outside of the rinks between the two passionate fanbases – Leaf Nation and Les Habs. Before the NHL expanded to include many more franchises (including 4 more in Canada), the Leafs and Canadiens were the only teams based in Canada battling it out for the Stanley Cup during the 25 years of the Original 6. The Leafs and Canadiens were triumphant in all but 1 season during that spell, intensifying the rivalry more and more. Unfortunately, when the 4 other Canadian franchises entered the NHL, many fans from western Canada started following their hometown teams and this once great rivalry began to simmer.
The Leafs and Canadiens have been part of the same Atlantic Division since 1993, but they only played a total of 3 games against each other in the regular season. The 2021 season has turned that upside down and will now pit these two giants against one another a total of 10 times in one season. The 2021 season will not only see each Canadian team fighting to earn their place in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but to also show who is the best team in Canada. The rivalry is bubbling once more!