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Canadiens vs Penguins Qualifying Round Preview

On August 1st the Montreal Canadiens will face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It will be game one of a best of five qualifying series. The two teams met three times this season with the Penguins coming out on top 2-1. Here is a look at each team and how they matchup.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins were one of only seven teams to have 40 or more wins when the season was stopped. At the time of the stoppage, the Penguins were sitting third in the Metropolitan Division. They had a five point lead over the Carolina Hurricanes. It looked like they were going to play a first round series against either the Philadelphia Flyers or Washington Capitals. Thanks to the Return to Play format, they will now need to get passed the Canadiens in a qualifying round first. The Penguins will be looking to capture their third cup in five years.

Montreal Canadiens

The Canadiens were not a playoff team when the NHL stopped the season due to the Coronavirus. They had a record of 31-31-9 for 71 points when the season stopped. Thanks to the NHL’s return to play plan, the Canadiens are being given an incredible second chance. Getting through to the next round will not be easy. The Canadiens will need to find a way to stop a powerful Penguins offense.

How They Match Up

Offence:

Pittsburgh: The Penguins scored an average of 2.70 goals per game at even strength this season. For the first time since early November, the Penguins will have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel all healthy. Malkin led the penguins in scoring with 25 goals and 49 assists for 74 points in 55 games. Behind him with 20 or more goals was Bryan Rust with 27 and Guentzel with 20. Crosby only had 16 goals in 41 games this year, but we know how Crosby can turn it up a notch in the playoffs. He has 66 goals and 120 assists for 186 points in 164 playoff games.

Montreal: The Canadiens scored an average of 2.54 goals per game at even strength this season. Although the Canadiens had more scoring chances than the Penguins this season, the Penguins scored on more of their chances. Tomas Tatar led the Canadiens in scoring with 22 goals and 39 assists for 61 points in 68 games. Tatar was one of just two players on the Canadiens who had more than 20 goals this season. The other player was Brendan Gallagher who scored 22 goals and 21 assists for 43 points in 59 games.

The Advantage: Pittsburgh

Sidney Crosby

Experience:

Pittsburgh: This will be the 14th year in a row that the Penguins have been in the playoffs. Their roster has combined for more than 800 NHL playoff games played. It is a roster full of players who know what it takes to win.

Montreal: The Canadiens missed the playoffs the passed two years and were looking at three in a row. Due to the NHL’s return to play playoff format, the Canadiens were able to squeak into the playoffs. Over the last 14 seasons in which the Penguins have always been in the playoffs, the Canadiens have been in eight times. The Canadiens have just over 500 combined playoff games played.

The Advantage: Pittsburgh

Goaltending:

Pittsburgh: The Penguins will likely start the playoffs with Matt Murray in net. Murray has played in 48 playoff games and has a record of 28-19-0. He helped the Penguins win back to back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017. Although Murray and Tristan Jarry split playing time this season fairly evenly, Jarry has no playoff experience. Murray had a 2.87 GAA and .899 SV% this season while Jarry had a 2.43 GAA and .921 SV%.

Montreal: The Canadiens will undoubtedly start Carey Price in net. Price has 13 NHL seasons of experience with 682 career games played. On top of that, Price has played in 60 playoff games. He helped the Canadiens reach the eastern conference finals twice (2010 and 2014). Although their chance to beat the Penguins is slim, all it takes is for Price to have three stellar games. Price has been known to dig deep and reach a higher level before, if he can do it again, the Canadiens will advance. Price had a 2.79 GAA and .909 SV% this season.

The Advantage: Montreal

Carey Price

Defense:

Pittsburgh: The Penguins relied heavily on veteran Kris Letang who averaged almost 26 minutes of ice time per game this season. One year ago in July of 2019, the Penguins found a diamond in the rough with John Marino. They acquired Marino from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a conditional 2021 6th round pick. Marino has worked out nicely for the Penguins so far. He averaged just over 20 minutes of ice time per game and recorded 26 points in 56 games. The Penguins will also have Justin Schultz, Marcus Pettersson and Jack Johnson who all averaged over 19 minutes of ice time this season. Having five defensemen who can play 19 minutes or more will be a huge plus for the Penguins.

Montreal: The Canadiens will be trying to stop the Penguin’s fire power with Jeff Petry, Shea Weber and Ben Chariot. All three defensemen averaged over 23 minutes of ice time per game this season. If any of these three falter, the Canadiens will need Victor Mete and Brett Kulak to step up. I believe that this Canadiens defense has the ability to slow down the Penguins, but the question is for how long? Can they withstand the Penguins relentless attack for a full five game series? We will soon find out.

The Advantage: Pittsburgh

Special Teams:

Pittsburgh: The Penguins power play was ranked 16th which is surprising for a team that has Crosby and Malkin. They did make up for it though by having a penalty kill ranked 10th. So although they might not score as often as they would like on the power play, they also are not giving up many goals while short handed.

Montreal: The Canadiens special teams was very inconsistent this season. They started the year with a good power play ranked 12th and a horrible penalty kill ranked 28th. Then in the second half of the season their penalty kill improved to 19th, but their power play dropped to 22nd. They will need to find consistency for both if they want to advance to the next round.

The Advantage: Pittsburgh

Final Prediction

Although I think that this will be a great series to watch, I have to give the upper hand to the Pittsburgh Penguins. If Carey Price can steal a game or two and if the Canadiens can find consistency on their special teams, then maybe they have a chance. Those are big ifs going up against the powerhouse that is the Penguins.

Pittsburgh Penguins will take the series 3-1

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Jeremy Ridgewell
36 Years Old Married since 2009 Father of one child Huge fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs
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