After far too long of a layoff, NHL hockey returns Saturday with a full-slate of five games. And unlike some of the other leagues return to play plans, the NHL is going right into meaningful do-or-die type match-ups.
This year, 24 teams qualify for the post-season, with the opening round play-in games being a best-of-5. Tonight’s feature matchup occurs in a showdown between the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins, and a Montreal Canadiens team that many feel didn’t deserve to play extra games.
In terms of points, Montreal, along with Chicago, were far and away behind the rest of the pack. Though they’re only in the tournament to make the numbers work, the Habs recognize this is still an opportunity for their underachieving group. Now healthy, Montreal has Carey Price in goal and a speedy squad with plenty to prove. Even though nobody is counting on them, Montreal believes in itself and could be one to watch going forward.
For the Penguins, the break also came at a good time for their squad. It allowed a mostly veteran group to get healthy, and re-integrate some of their key acquisitions from the deadline. The Pens know there’s a big opportunity for another big post-season run, though a best-of-5 series vs. a dangerous Habs team should make them weary.
This matchup is definitely one to watch among all the opening round, play-in series. For a complete analysis and preview of Game 1 on Saturday evening, continue reading on beneath the odds for our pick and betting prediction for the Penguins vs. Habs.
Penguins vs. Canadiens Betting Odds:
Pittsburgh Penguins (-158)
Montreal Canadiens (+143)
Over 5.5 (-110)
Under 5.5 (-110)
*Betting odds provided by BetOnline.ag
Penguins vs. Canadiens Pick:
While very few pundits and so-called experts in media are giving Montreal zero shot in this best-of-five meeting with Pittsburgh, don’t jump to that conclusion just yet.
The Habs do many things well, bolstered by impressive underlying statistics. In the 25 games from before the pandemic pause, the Canadiens were one of the very best teams at expected goals in a 5v5 scenario. They use their solid team speed and depth to generate a constant barrage of chances, and though they lack some elite finishers, Claude Julien’s team has a tendency to wear down the opposition.
Can that happen against a veteran-laden Pittsburgh squad, with new acquisitions Jason Zucker and Patrick Marleau now in the fold? It won’t be easy, as this Pens squad is rejuvenated and looks as deep as any version that Sidney Crosby has gotten to work with. The Pens move the puck quickly, playing to a frantic tempo. Geno Malkin and Crosby give coach Mike Sullivan an unbelievable 1-2 punch down the middle, and that tandem should wear down the unproven Nick Suzuki and Phil Danault.
For Game 1, expect a closer game than most people would be expecting given the difference in points during the regular season. Montreal will do many things that should trouble the Penguins, starting with their impressive team speed and depth through four lines.
The biggest edge entering Game 1 might be on the totals across the NHL board. Often, October scoring is higher than April scoring, and as this restart replicates the beginning of a new campaign, look for these games to be frantic, fast-paced, and high-event hockey. Both the Habs and Penguins generated 5v5 scoring chances at very high rates, and with neither goalie entering all that sharp, look to the over 5.5 for Game 1.