By: Hank Arizona
We are just a few days away from the start of 2020 NHL Playoffs. Today we will be looking at the Pittsburgh, Montreal series and how the two teams stack up against each other.
Very few teams boast a collection of high-end forwards on the same level as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal is not one of those teams. Phillip Danault and Max Domi are both solid players but when they’re matching up against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, solid might not be enough. The Canadiens aren’t quite as outgunned on the wing with players like Jonathan Drouin, Brendan Gallagher, and leading point-getter Thomas Tatar however, they too are up against fierce competition.
Postponing the playoffs has provided an opportunity for Jake Guentzel to return from shoulder surgery in time for the playoffs. Bryan Rust has had a breakout year and trade deadline acquisition Jason Zucker put up a respectable 12 points in his first 15 games as a Penguin.
While the Penguins were ravaged by injuries this season, four players managed to score at a point-per-game pace or higher while no one on the Canadiens managed to accomplish the same feat. After all, the Penguins are built around two of the greatest forwards of this generation, it’s unsurprising they have the advantage in this category.
Additionally, the Penguins boast one of the best two-way fourth lines in the league in Teddy Blueger, Brandon Tanev, and Zach Aston-Reese.
Both teams have fairly weak bottom pairings and similar defense corps. Montreal’s defensemen are led by team captain Shea Weber, while Pittsburgh’s best rearguard is Kris Letang. Both players have been elite defensemen for the past decade.
The Penguins benefited greatly from the emergence of rookie John Marino, who has excelled in the NHL after being acquired from the Oilers for a sixth-round pick prior to this season. Brian Dumoulin has proven himself as a reliable defender and a good partner for the risk-taking Letang.
Like Dumoulin, Ben Chiarot is a solid d-man that has found success as a top-pairing defenseman. Jeff Petry has shown that he can provide offense from the point but his defensive game could be improved.
Overall, Defense isn’t a weakness for either team, but Pittsburgh’s d-corps’ superior offensive firepower and experience gives them an edge.
Unfortunately for the Habs, on paper, the Penguins have the advantage at most of the skater positions. Fortunately for Montreal, the goaltender position is rather important.
Though the past few seasons haven’t been his best, Carey Price is still very capable of taking over hockey games. In his last three trips to the playoffs, he’s averaged a 0.924 save percentage.
Goaltending being the great equalizer that it is, could be just what the Canadiens need in a series against a Pittsburgh team that ranked 10th in goals per game despite injuries to several significant players throughout the season.
Statistically, Pittsburgh has the edge in both powerplay and penalty kill, which isn’t all that surprising considering that in a normal season Montreal likely would’ve missed the playoffs by a healthy margin. Although the Penguins only have a slim lead in power play percentage, they’ve also had to deal with the aforementioned injuries for the vast majority of the season, so while the league shutting down has provided Montreal with a chance at a playoff berth, it also gave the Penguins time to heal.