The Habs are heavy undergoes once again as they head into their third-round series against the Golden Knights but there are some ways that they can come out victorious. Our writers provide their thoughts on how Montreal can win the series.
Each writer was asked to complete the following sentence: The Habs will beat Vegas if ___________. Getting top goaltending from Carey Price is basically a given so no one was allowed to pick that option. Here are our writers’ keys to victory.
Tom Haapanen: The Habs will beat Vegas if their defence can keep the Knights’ shooters to the outside.
As we saw in the series with the Jets, the Habs may have given up many shot attempts, but very few high-danger scoring chances. If the defence can stay healthy (enough) and maintain the discipline of keeping the Vegas forwards on the outside and blocking shots, Carey Price should be able to shine in goal and give the Habs the opportunity to win games without having to score four or five goals per game.
Brian La Rose: The Habs will beat Vegas if their top right wingers can start lighting the lamp.
Brendan Gallagher has routinely been Montreal’s top goal scorer in recent years. He has two goals so far, well below his usual pace. Cole Caufield has played well but is still looking for his first playoff tally. Josh Anderson hasn’t scored (or recorded a point) since the first game of the playoffs. The strength of this team up front is their right wingers but they’re not getting much production out of their top three on the right side. It’s a good thing the fourth line has punched above their weight so far while Tyler Toffoli is comfortable playing his off-side. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t played the Habs particularly well in his career (3.12 GAA, .897 SV% in 42 games) and the Habs will need some of their top scorers to, well, score. That might give them enough goal support for Price to shut the door.
Kevin Leveille: The Habs will beat Vegas if the fourth line continues scoring at their current pace.
Considering the altered rule book of the playoffs, I think the Chiarot-Weber pairing will continue to bring it and with the help of the Danault line and the occasional Price incredi-save, they’ll silence Vegas’ top unit of Stone-Stephenson-Pacioretty for most of the series. To be completely honest, we all know a few solid hits on Pacioretty at the start of any game will leave him to the periphery for the rest of the game, so mission accomplished. Taking the top units out of the equation then, I think the bluelines and goaltending are pretty evenly matched, so long as Jeff Petry returns relatively quickly to even up that second pairing. I also believe that the Suzuki line can absolutely keep up with Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith, and the Kotkaniemi line is an even matchup with the Vegas third line. I don’t believe in Peter DeBoer as a difference-maker, but Dominique Ducharme seems to be along for the ride as well, so it’s a wash behind the bench. Montreal’s power play is 4% higher than Vegas’ through 2 rounds, but the Habs hold a huge advantage in terms of shorthanded effectiveness. However, this is the third round and I believe man advantages should be scarce.
After considering a fairly even match-up on paper with Vegas’ slight advantage being negated by Habs special teams, two extra games, and tougher opponents. Then, look at the 4th line matchup. Perry vs Carrier – Habs win, Staal vs Kolesar – Habs win, Armia vs Reaves – Habs win. So long as Staal and Armia keep it up (because we all know Perry will), then this is yet another series where this line can be the difference. I could be wrong. Maybe Montreal’s defence can’t contain the top forwards and this one is over in a hurry, but so long as Ducharme can exploit the depth matchups regularly, the Staal line can once again put the Habs over the top. Luckily for Montreal, they’ve had two fewer games played against lesser teams so the longer the series goes, the better it should be for the Habs.
Naqeeb Shaikh: The Habs will beat Vegas if they stay disciplined.
No retaliatory penalties and stick to the game plan (offence and defence) whether they have a lead or not. Ensure that any Golden Knights players are boxed out and have no access to the front of the net. Force Vegas into penalties early and often. It does not matter who scores just score and defend to shut down the neutral zone and their wingers.
Norm Szcyrek: The Habs will beat Vegas if they stick to the same system that has helped them to win seven straight games.
I have noticed a different approach applied in their defensive zone, where the defencemen make a short pass to another player, that player makes another short pass to a teammate, and the third player is the one that moves the puck out of the zone. This has kept forecheckers at bay during their winning streak. Neither the Leafs nor the Jets could counter that strategy, and I believe this is the key to their successful possession play.