Montreal Has A Chance To Upset The Penguins

The Montreal Canadiens, before the pause, were on their way to a third consecutive season missing the playoffs, but now have life thanks to a new proposed format. The pandemic seemed to have a done a favour for them, but it won’t be easy. They face, once again, the daunting task of facing Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins in a five-game series that will decide if they qualify for the playoffs or not.

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On Paper, It’s A Total Mismatch

The Pittsburgh Penguins are probably one of the most consistent teams you will find in the league. Three players on the team finished the regular season with more than 20 goals, including a surprise, Bryan Rust who had 27 which led the entire team. Only Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher scored more than 20 goals this year.

Montreal does have other offensive weapons that they could use like Max Domi, Nick Suzuki and Jonathan Drouin, but they will need to pick up their game. Drouin was having a breakout year before he sustained his major injury, so Habs fans are hoping the long pause helped him recover properly and that he is back to 100%. Also, if you look at the standings, everyone has mentioned that the Penguins finished with 15 more points, but at the end of the day, once the playoffs start, that notion goes out the window.

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Defensive Shutdown

Now that we have gone over stats, season performance and offence, let’s take a look at how the defence on both sides shape out. For the Montreal Canadiens, it will be vital for Shea Weber and the rest of the defensive core to shut down an extremely good offence. This could be very interesting on both sides of the ice as the Penguins will have Montreal native Kris Letang and Jack Johnson. A healthy Shea Weber, after suffering through injuries, could be an x-factor in this series.

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Between The Pipes

This could be another determining factor for this particular series. Carey Price has proven he can carry a team on his back and most analysts say that if he plays on his head, advantage Montreal. On the other side of the ice, it will be the duo of Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry and the only reason I said both is because we have no official word from Penguins camp as to who will be starting.

If you look at the numbers, Matt Murray started the year, but around mid-season, his play started to drop, so Jarry stepped in and did a pretty good job. He actually finished top-five in save percentage and goals against average in the entire league. I’m pretty sure that Murray will get the start due to his experience and the fact that he is the only netminder to win two Stanley Cups in his first two years.

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Prediction Time

This is kind of like picking straws and analyzing every position and trying to determine who has the advantage, so let’s have a closer look at that. On the offensive side, I see Pittsburgh having the advantage with players like Crosby, Malkin, Zucker, Guentzel and Rust. Montreal can only counter with Tatar, Gallagher, Drouin and Suzuki, and for that, I give that advantage to the Penguins.

On the defensive side of things, Shea Weber is a rock on the backend and I think a healthy Weber is better than a Kris Letang, plus Ben Chiarot adds that size and grit and a big body. Also, Jeff Petry who has an exceptional hockey IQ. For that, I give the edge to the Montreal Canadiens.

In regards to special teams, I have to give the advantage to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Montreal Canadiens penalty kill this past season was atrocious and the Canadiens coaching staff will have to devise a plan to clean it up and make sure the same thing doesn’t happen. With all the offensive weapons the Penguins have, putting them on the man advantage could spell trouble for les habitants.

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When it comes to the net, Carey Price seems to be the sure bet due to the fact that over the years, we have come to realize as the season progresses, fatigue has been a major issue. Price is usually first or second on the list when it comes to games played through the course of a season. Here’s the advantage: he just had a five-month break, meaning he is 100% healthy and fit, not to mention well rested.

The Pittsburgh Penguins started Matt Murray for the start of the season, but Murray’s numbers started to drop, so they decided to change to Tristan Jarry and he proved to be quite the reliable backup. He ended up finishing top-five in the league when it came to his statistics. Matt Murray is most likely to start due to his playoff experience, but I still think Carey Price gives the advantage to Montreal.

Prediction: Habs in five

Keep in mind, Montreal historically has done better in the playoffs as a lower seed team than a higher seed team and the last time these two teams were in the NHL Playoffs was in 2010. It was then that Montreal ended up taking the series in seven games thanks to the stellar play of Jaroslav Halak which proves goaltending is one of the main factors when deciding a series.

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