The surprising freefall of the Penguins in the past several weeks has dropped them to a wild card spot and with that, has given the Canadiens yet another potential first round opponent. How do the Habs match up with Pittsburgh?
Regular Season Results
November 18: Pittsburgh 4, Montreal 0
January 3: Montreal 4, Pittsburgh 1
January 10: Pittsburgh 2, Montreal 1 (OT)
Goals: Pacioretty (2), Desharnais/Emelin/Gilbert (1)
Assists: 9 tied with (1)
Points: Pacioretty (3), Gilbert (2), 9 tied with (1)
PIMS: Emelin/Gilbert (4), Galchenyuk/Plekanec (2)
Goals: Crosby (2), 5 tied with (1)
Assists: Bennett/Downie/Letang (2), 5 tied with (1)
Points: Bennett/Crosby/Downie (3), Letang (2)
PIMS: Bortuzzo (6), Downie (4), 6 tied with (2)
Montreal: 0% PP (0/11), 66.7% PK (4/6)
Pittsburgh: 33.3% PP (2/6), 100% PK (11/11)
(Stats are as of games played through April 10th.)
Montreal: 16.7% PP (40/240, T-22nd overall), 83.3% PK (210/252, 10th overall)
Pittsburgh: 19.3% PP (49/254, 10th overall), 84.8% PK (235/277, 3rd overall)
As we all know, special teams haven’t been a strength for the Habs for most of the season which could be an issue here. The Penguins are one of the top teams in the league when it comes to shorthanded success; couple that with Montreal’s complete inability to score power play goals on the road (just 13 on the year) and it seems highly unlikely that Montreal’s man advantage will actually be an advantage.
The Canadiens’ penalty kill has faltered as of late which should be a cause for concern going up against a Penguins power play unit that features many weapons. One thing that could work in Montreal’s favour is Pittsburgh’s penchant for allowing shorthanded tallies. They’re near the top of the league in that category while Montreal is near the top in shorthanded goals scored. That all said, the Pens have the advantage in the special teams department.
Head-to-Head this season:
Carey Price (MTL): 1-1-1 record, 2.29 GAA, .922 SV%, 0 SO
Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT): 2-1-0 record, 1.63 GAA, .943 SV%, 1 SO
(Regular Season Stats only)
Carey Price (MTL): 10-10-3 record, 2.93 GAA, .908 SV%, 1 SO
Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT): 18-10-3 record, 3.01 GAA, .897 SV%, 1 SO
The head-to-head numbers would suggest this is a toss-up but I don’t think there would be too many out there who would actually make that argument. Price has been at the top of his game pretty much all season while Fleury has been up-and-down which has long been a criticism of his. I have little doubt that Fleury can steal a series when he’s on his game which makes him a big wildcard in a potential MTL-PIT matchup. However, I have my doubts that he’ll be able to play at the top of his game given his performance as of late. When you consider that and the fact that Price is Price, the Habs get the nod when it comes to the goalies.
|Martin – Lovejoy
Ehrhoff – Cole
Scuderi – Pouliot
|Markov – Subban
Emelin – Petry
Beaulieu – Gilbert
Scratches: Gonchar, Pateryn
(Ehrhoff is currently injured but is expected to be ready for the playoffs. Pouliot is also currently day-to-day.)
Both bluelines are lacking in the grit/physical department which makes for an interesting comparison. Obviously, the Habs have the better top pairing but I have my concerns about their in-zone play. With the Penguins having a lot of skilled forwards, I fear Montreal will have some issues when it comes to containment. On the flip side, Pittsburgh’s blueline may not be overly physical but they can ice some solid shutdown options. Between that and the Habs’ offensive struggles as a team, that could play a big role. On paper, Montreal’s defence corps looks better but on the ice, I think the Penguins may have the slightly more effective group in a series.
|Winnik – Crosby – Hornqvist
Kunitz – Malkin – Comeau
Downie – Sutter – Spaling
Adams – Lapierre – Perron
|Galchenyuk – Plekanec – Gallagher
Smith-Pelly – Desharnais – Parenteau
de la Rose – Eller – Weise
Prust – Mitchell – Flynn
(Downie is currently injured but is only day-to-day. Everyone’s waiting with baited breath for whether or not Pacioretty will be available when the playoffs start.)
It’s mind boggling how the Penguins are struggling to score up front. I know they’re not the strongest on the wings (aside from Hornqvist and to a lesser degree, Perron) but there’s still enough talent there that you have to expect that they’ll turn it around at some point. I’m a big fan of their bottom six. It has size, some skill, some agitators, and most importantly, is good enough to play a shutdown role, freeing up the Crosby and Malkin lines to focus on offence.
For the Habs, their already-weak offence looks even weaker without Pacioretty in the lineup. While there is still some offensive talent, it’s likely that the hope would be to win a lot of 2-1 games. The bottom six options are quality defensive forwards but it’s hard to foresee the type of bottom six contributions that Montreal received in the 2014 playoffs.
Both groups have had their struggles as of late which makes it hard to declare any sort of meaningful advantage. If I had to speculate about which group is more likely to find their offensive game though, I’d have to pick Pittsburgh.
A couple of weeks ago, I would have thought there was no chance that this matchup could occur. (If you’ve seen our poll, you’ll note that the Penguins aren’t one of the options.) But with them faltering and the Habs still battling for Atlantic Division seeding, there’s a realistic chance that these two meet up next week.
One big wildcard for this series would be coaching. Pittsburgh has a rookie bench boss in Mike Johnston and many of their fans have similar concerns as Montreal fans do with Michel Therrien. Does a lack of NHL (or for that matter, professional) postseason coaching experience give the Habs an edge? There’s no way to quantify it so I’m not going to guess whether it would or wouldn’t but it could possibly be a storyline at some point.
On paper, Pittsburgh looks like the better team but can Carey Price be the great equalizer? I’d like to think he can but I’d have some doubts, especially if Pacioretty isn’t ready to return, that Price could steal several games of the 2-1 or even 1-0 variety as I just don’t see the Penguins’ offence scuffling this much for another few weeks. It would be a long series either way but as things currently stand, I think Pittsburgh could take it in the end. That is, unless Marc-Andre Fleury repeats his postseason adventures of recent years. If that happens, all bets are off.