The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Montreal Canadiens will face off in the best-of-five qualifying round when the season resumes in the NHL. Although there is no date for the start of the games, two NHL.com writers have already started the debate over who has the advantage in the series.
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Mike Zeisberger, editor
This game must be a nightmare for the Canadiens goalkeeper Carey Award, who may already have visions of Penguin centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin laying on him. Crosby and Malkin each averaged more than one point per game, Malkin scoring 74 points (25 goals, 49 assists) in 55 games (1.35 ppg) and Crosby scoring 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) in 41 games (1.15).
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said on Wednesday that he was optimistic Jake Guentzel will be ready to play. Guentzel scored 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) in 39 games before undergoing shoulder surgery on December 31. Because the games will be played on a neutral site, the Canadians will lose one of the few advantages they had; the noisy and intimidating atmosphere of the Bell Center. Canadians have their work cut out for them.
Tim Campbell, editor
Opportunity should be a buzzword in Montreal, where the Canadians were far behind the Penguins in percentage points in the regular season (.623 vs. .500) but are now on a par. Mike mentioned that not playing at the Bell Center was a factor for the Canadians, but I see it differently. Montreal was 17-14-3 on the road rather than 14-17-6 at home, which tells me that Canadians should not have any problems on a neutral site. I agree with Mike that the Canadians will have the second best attacking mark in this series, with no points per game. They can count heavily on their three best defenders (Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Ben chiarot) and potentially a draw in the battle between the defense groups. What Montreal could exploit is the goalkeeper, where they have veteran Price, the Hart trophy and the winner of the Vézina trophy in 2015. Price, who is 27-25-6 with an average of allocated goals of 2 , 79 and a save percentage of .909 this season, has a wealth of experience in his 13 NHL seasons that he could use to a substantial advantage, and if he finds his rhythm before the Pittsburgh playmakers do not find theirs, an upheaval is not out of the question. But Montreal must be wary of relying only on Price. He will need a big run from more than one of his other leaders.
Video: MTL @ OTT: Price scores 30 saves in Canadians’ 3-0 win
The Canadians have had difficulties at home during the regular season, but we know that Montreal is a different and magical place during the playoffs. I also think that all the talk about Montreal having a distinct advantage for the purpose could be a bit of an exaggeration. It’s not to minimize the impact of Price, one of the best goalkeepers of his generation who can win a streak virtually alone. But don’t minimize the Penguins duo Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry. Murray won the Stanley Cup twice with Pittsburgh while Jarry finished ninth with a .921 save percentage among NHL goaltenders to play at least 20 games. The Penguins will be motivated after being swept by the New York Islanders in the first round of the Eastern Conference last season.
Mike agrees with me that the Canadians will need more than Price to win the series. The Penguins have capable and decorated goalies, so there is the great challenge for the Canadians, finding a way to score enough to compete in this series. For this, I look forward Brendan Gallagher, Max Domi, Tomas tatar and Joel Armia. Tatar was Montreal’s top scorer in the regular season, with 61 points (22 goals, 39 assists) in 68 games. He suffered an upper body injury on March 3, but said on April 14 that he was allowed to play. And I think Gallagher, who has 43 points (22 goals, 21 assists) in 59 games this season, can play a major leadership role here, not that he has not already done so. This is the type of player that a team can rally around. He has the ability to contribute offensively, and if he finds his game early, he could bring more than a few teammates to the level of play necessary. Certainly, the Penguins will not like to play against him. Forward Jonathan Drouin, who has not played since February 25 due to an ankle injury, is allowed to play, general manager Marc Bergevin said on Wednesday. Drouin, who missed 37 games after undergoing wrist surgery on November 19, had 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 27 games.