2020 NHL Playoffs – Qualifying Round – PIT vs. MTL

Updated: July 24, 2020 at 6:03 pm by Brock Seguin

The Pittsburgh Penguins enter the 2020 Qualifying Round looking to earn their 14th consecutive trip to the NHL Playoffs. As for Montreal, they’ve been to the postseason just once in the last four years (2017)and haven’t won’t a playoff series since 2015.

As a .500 hockey team, the odds are heavily stacked against the Canadiens. In their three regular-season meetings, Montreal was 1-1-1 vs. Pittsburgh but was only outscored 8-to-7.

This is probably the most lopsided qualifying round matchup from a pure talent perspective but goaltending can be the great elixir. Montreal is a few vintage Carey Price performances away from an upset.

Schedule

Game 1: Saturday, August 1st @ 8:00 PM ET
Game 2: Monday, August 3rd @ 8:00 PM ET
Game 3: Wednesday, August 5th @ 8:00 PM ET

if necessary:
Game 4: Friday, August 7th
Game 5: Saturday, August 8th


Record

40-23-6 (7th)

31-31-9 (24th)

GF/PG

3.20 (10th)

2.93 (19th)

GA/PG

2.84 (t-11th)

3.10 (t-19th)

5v5 SV%

.915 (19th)

.917 (17th)

PP%

19.9% (16th)

17.7% (22nd)

PK%

82.1% (t-8th)

78.7% (19th)

CF%

50.86 (11th)

54.76 (2nd)

5v5

Projected Lineups

Guentzel – Crosby – Sheary

Zucker – Malkin – Rust

Marleau – McCann – Hornqvist

Aston-Reese – Blueger – Tanev

Dumoulin – Letang

Pettersson – Marino

Johnson – Schultz

Tatar – Danault – Gallagher

Drouin – Suzuki – Armia

Lehkonen – Kotkaniemi – Byron

Weal – Domi – Weise

Chiarot – Weber

Mete – Petry

Ouellet – Folin

The biggest benefit for the Penguins following a four-month layoff is Jake Guentzel is back and can compete in the playoffs. He underwent shoulder surgery back in late-December and was expected to be out until at least early-May. With the postseason being pushed to August, he’s back at 100 percent and skating on a line with Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary.

Pittsburgh got a scare in training camp when Crosby was hurt in a scrimmage earlier this week but he was back at practice on Friday and appear set to play in Game 1 vs. Montreal. Patric Hornqvist missed a good portion of training camp as well but returned to the ice on Thursday and will be key on the power-play and to provide some secondary scoring behind the Crosby and Evgeni Malkin lines.

There was also uncertainty in the Montreal camp regarding centre Max Domi. The fifth-year pro sat out the first week of Phase 3 deciding whether or not he would participate in the NHL’s Return to Play Program. Domi is a Type-1 diabetic, which puts him at a heightened risk for severe symptoms of Covid-19. Ultimately, he decided he would play and made his camp debut this past Monday. He was a top-6 player during the regular season but has been centring the fourth line with Jordan Weal and Dale Weise in camp. That line has performed well in scrimmages and it helps lengthen the Canadiens’ roster to try and match up with a Penguins team that can roll all four lines with confidence.

The 5v5 battle in this series is going to be very interesting. During the regular season, Montreal was one of the best teams in the NHL at controlling the puck and generating scoring chances. However, they had a hard time converting those chances into goals. They were 4th in xGF but 17th in 5v5 goals thanks to the seventh-lowest shooting percentage (7.49). Carrying the league’s second-best CorsiFor% allowed them to limit their opponent’s chances. They gave up the fifth-fewest scoring chances against but average goaltending let them down.

As for the Penguins, they weren’t that great at generating scoring chances at 5v5, which is shocking when you look at how much talent they have. However, they were among the league’s best defensively, limiting their opponents to the second-fewest scoring chances and fifth-fewest from the high-danger areas. This is also the first time they’re going to be at 100 percent. We have yet to see what this team can do with their trade deadline acquisitions Jason Zucker and Sheary in the lineup at the same time as Guentzel. It pushes Zucker down a line and makes this team that much deeper.

When you put those two teams together, this could be a very low-event series at 5v5 which puts added importance on goaltending and special teams.

Advantage: Even

Special Teams

Projected PP Units

PP1: Hornqvist – Crosby – Guentzel

Malkin – Letang

PP2: Marleau – McCann – Rust

Schultz – Zucker

PP1: Gallagher – Suzuki – Tatar

Weber – Drouin

PP2: Armia – Kotkaniemi – Weal

Petry – Domi

After having a top-5 power-play for each of the last three seasons, the Penguins were mediocre with the man-advantage in 2020. A lot of those struggles can be attributed to injuries. The four forwards (Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel and Hornqvist) on their top power-play unit missed a combined 89 games, with Malkin missing the fewest (14). Now at full health entering the playoffs their PP you can expect their PP to click at a higher rate than 19.9 percent.

Even with Montreal’s penalty kill ranking near the bottom-third of the NHL, Pittsburgh’s PP managed to score just one goal in eight attempts vs. the Habs during the regular season.

Montreal wasn’t great with the man-advantage but they were even worse at drawing penalties. The Canadiens had the third-fewest power-play chances in the NHL this year. Even when the ref’s hand finally went up in their favour, they converted at just 17.7 percent. Shea Weber and his mammoth shot is their best PP weapon but he just hasn’t been the same offensive force since being traded to Montreal. From 2009-to-2016 he had 67 PPG, which was 18 more than the next closest defenseman. In his last three seasons, he has just 10 PPG, which is 13th among blueliners. In his defence, he also ranks 156th in games played over that stretch, so injuries have been a major factor.

To make matters worse, the Penguins were penalized the sixth-fewest times in 2020, so chances are likely going to be few and far between for Montreal.

Advantage: Pittsburgh

Goaltending

Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan has a decision to make: Matt Murray or Tristan Jarry?

Since 2016, Murray has started 72.3 percent of the Penguins’ playoff games and 100 percent since 2018. However, Jarry made a pretty compelling case to be the Game 1 starter during his 31-game audition during the regular season. Jarry had a  better winning percentage (.645 to .526), a better GAA (2.43 to 2.87), a better SV% (.921 to .899) and more shutouts (3 to 1) than Murray this year. Sullivan could elect to go with Murray’s playoff experience in Game 1 but he has the shortest leash of any goalie in the Qualifying Round.

There is no decision to be made for Claude Julien. Carey Price is his guy but he needs him to be better. During the regular season, Price was tied for 31st (among qualified starters) in both GAA (2.79) and SV% (.909). Hardly the stats you expect from the highest-paid goalie in NHL history.

If Montreal is going to have a chance in this series, Price needs to play like he did the last time he was in the playoffs. He posted a 1.86 GAA and .933 SV% but even that wasn’t enough to beat the Rangers, who ousted the Habs in six.

Advantage: Even

Prediction: Penguins in 3

Even if Price plays great, it’s hard to envision the Canadiens getting much going against a stingy Penguins team. Pittsburgh suffocates you with all four lines and have the fire-power to convert even if they end up getting out-chanced. There is just too much of a talent disparity for Montreal to overcome.



Carey Price, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Max Domi, Montreal Canadiens, NHL Playoffs, Pittsburgh Penguins, Shea Weber, Sidney Crosby