One team is a Stanley Cup contender and the other is fortunate to be here.
When the NHL season was halted on March 12, the Montreal Canadiens held a 0.1% of getting into the traditional 16-team postseason.
The expanded 24-team playoff that required an even number of teams handed the Canadiens a ticket to the qualifying round where they will take on a star-studded Penguins team with an eye on a deep playoff run.
Let’s take a look at how this series shapes up for each club while taking a look at the odds before handing out a series predictions and an exact series result prediction to boot.
*Odds courtesy of BetOnline
Canadiens vs. Penguins Series Odds
- Canadiens (+200)
- Penguins (-240)
Canadiens vs. Penguins Exact Series Result Odds
- Canadiens 3-1 (+485)
- Canadiens 3-2 (+525)
- Canadiens 3-0 (+1000)
- Penguins 3-1 (+310)
- Penguins 3-2 (+285)
- Penguins 3-0 (+325)
Canadiens vs. Penguins Series Preview & Predictions
On the whole, the Canadiens’ offense wasn’t anything to write home about as their 2.93 goals per game ranked 19th in the league, however if their road numbers mean anything in the Toronto bubble, they could be in for an offensive jolt.
Their road offense was far better than their home offense this season as they ranked ninth with 3.15 goals per game on the road this season while their overall possession numbers were impressive as well.
Only Vegas finished with a higher Corsi For% than the Canadiens’ 54.43% mark and Montreal’s expected goals for percentage of 54.01% also ranked second in the league.
However, the Canadiens lacked the finishing touch with a 25th ranked 7.49% shooting rate on the season and combined with a power play of just 17.7% on the season (22nd) their overall offense fell under par.
Of course, as long as the Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as their 1-2 punch down the middle they are going to be one of the more dangerous offenses the NHL has to offer.
Not only do the Penguins have that tandem down the middle, but they’ll also sport one to the left of those superstar pivots as Jake Guentzel returns from shoulder surgery while Jason Zucker – acquired to replace Guentzel down the stretch – will now slide down to the second line alongside Malkin.
Needless to say, the return of Guentzel gives the Penguins their 40-goal man from last season back and a play who scored his 20th goal before crashing into the end board just before the New Year.
Even with their rash of injuries up front this season, the Penguins managed to finish 10th with 3.20 goals per game, but their usually-dominant power play slipped to 16th with a 19.9% clip on the season.
Again, this area of the game largely depended on where the Canadiens played this season.
At home, the Habs struggled to prevent goals and ranked 25th with 3.16 goals against per game. On the road, however, they improved to 3.03 goals against per game, good for a share of 14th with the Winnipeg Jets.
Still, the club was allowing north of three goals per game wherever they played, although they’ll need to hide the third pairing of Xavier Ouellet and Christian Folin from either of the Penguins’ top two lines.
Needless, to say, the Ben Chiarot/Shea Weber pairing will be key to shutting down this Penguins offense, but they can’t cover both high-octane lines with his pairing while Philipp Danault – one of the premier 200-foot centers in the game – can only be used to shut down one of the Penguins’ top two pivots.
While the Penguins managed to produce offense in the absence of key players throughout the season – including Crosby and Malkin – the same can be said for the back end.
One of the more underrated defenders in the league – Brian Dumoulin – played in just 28 games this season due to an ankle injury, but returned in early March and is ready to go for the postseason.
The Canadiens managed to rank 12th with 2.84 goals against per game on the season despite injuries to Justin Schultz in addition to Dumoulin while rookie John Marino really stepped up in the absence of some veteran rear guards.
Not the strong point of their club, the Penguins very much held their own on the back end under difficult circumstances.
It’s long been said that Carey Price needs to be dominant for this Canadiens team to make noise and that will certainly be the case again.
In fact, it was originally reported that team were against the three-of-five qualifying round for reasons such as Price who has the ability to get hot and take over a series.
That said, if he’s to do so this time around, it will have to be in bounce back fashion after another tough regular season.
Price worked to a 2.79 GAA and .909 Sv% in the regular season, but went on some ugly stretches such as the month of November in which he posted a 3.77 GAA and .883 SV% while surrendering at least five goals in four of the last five games of the month.
It apparent we aren’t dealing with vintage Price here. While getting hot and shutting the door on the high-octane Penguins is not out of the question, the probability of him doing so at this juncture is far less than in his prime.
There’s somewhat of a decision to be made in the Penguins’ crease between Tristan Jarry and Matt Murray for who will start Game 1 of this series.
That said, I’d be staggered if it wasn’t Jarry given the regular season the two netminders put forth.
Sure, Murray has the playoff experience as he’s started 47 postseason games and owns a 2.16 GAA and .921 Sv% in that time with a pair of Stanley Cups to boot. His playoff resume is already wildly impressive.
However, Murray struggled this season, turning in a 2.87 GAA and .899 Sv% in 38 starts while Jarry took control of the crease and turned in a 2.43 GAA and .921 Sv% with three shutouts in 33 appearances.
He scuffled down the stretch a little but, but there’s no question Jarry was the superior netminder this season.
So, it would appear to come down to experience versus this year’s work and I would certainly be going with Jarry to kick off this series.
While crazy things usually happen in the playoffs – last year’s Blue Jackets first-round, four-game sweep of the Lightning, for example – this is the most lopsided series of the qualifying round and the odds show as much.
The Canadiens are going to be in a full-on war trying to handle the Penguins’ top two lines. As noted, Danault can only do one at a time and the Canadiens other three centers – Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Max Domi – are lightyears from being considered adequate defensive centers, especially when the task is Crosby and Malkin.
The Price factor remains, but at this point he’s not the best goaltender in the sport anymore and is certainly not the only threat to get hot in the crease. Nearly every goaltender in this 24-team playoff is a candidate to do so.
As a result, I’m on the Penguins to win this qualifying series, but the series odds don’t present a ton of value and require plenty of juice to be laid down.
The true value is in the exact series results odds where I am taking the Pens to pull off the three-game sweep in this one.