It’s been nearly a six month break from NHL hockey, and while it returned on Saturday, I was unavailable to join in on the Free NHL pick fun once again due to a family camping commitment.
That said, it feels wonderful to be back.
It was a productive regular season for my free NHL picks and I look forward to continuing that success in the playoffs.
Therefore, I’ll keep my running tally going for my season-long picks going, but I’ll also keep a separate tally for postseason picks as well, just for fun.
With that in mind, let’s get to it!
Season Record: 115-95-1
Now let’s take a look at this free NHL pick featuring the Penguins vs. Canadiens from Scotiabank Arena inside the Toronto hockey bubble!
Penguins vs. Canadiens Betting Odds
- Penguins (-163)
- Canadiens (+147)
- Penguins -1.5 (+164)
- Canadiens +1.5 (-184)
- Over 5.5 (+116)
- Under 5.5 (-128)
Penguins vs. Canadiens NHL Pick Breakdown
There was an initial scare for the Penguins as they opened up the series by putting 41 shots on Carey Price but ended up with just two goals before Jeff Petry ended things on overtime following each team missing on a penalty shot.
The club continued to control the play in Game 2, but this time were rewarded with a victory while narrowly missing out on a shutout after Canadiens center Jesperi Kotkaniemi made a game of things with just over two minutes to go in regulation.
At this point, I would expect the Penguins’ offense to make things difficult on Carey Price again tonight.
After all, the club fought through a wealth of regular-season injuries to some key players – including the 1-2 punch of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin down the middle – to finish as a top-10 offense while averaging 3.20 goals per game on the season.
This is by far the healthiest this group has been all season as the team also got Jake Guentzel back after shoulder surgery initially threatened the remainder of his season following a awkward fall into the end boards after tallying his 20th goal of the season on December 30.
Guentzel’s return to the lineup cannot be underestimated as he not only has three points in two games this series, but has also scored 25 goals with 46 points over 43 career postseason games to this point.
As Crosby’s wingman at both even strength and the top power play unit, Guentzel’s return is a monster addition for this Penguins offense.
Defensively, neither club has been particularly poor through two games in this series, but the work of the Penguins’ defensive effort combined with sharp goaltending from Matt Murray have been overshadowed by the netminder at the other end of the ice.
Murray turned aside 27 of 28 shots in Game 2 to push his series save percentage to .935, which is nothing new for the 26-year-old who already owns an impressive playoff resume.
In 49 career playoff starts and 50 appearances, Murray has posted a 2.14 GAA and .922 Sv% with six shutouts, but more importantly two Stanley Cups as well.
With a 1.79 GAA so far in these playoffs while allowing just three regulation goals in 120 minutes of action, the decision to roll with Murray and his postseason experience appears to have been a good one on behalf of Mike Sullivan and the Penguins’ brass.
With the help of Price, the Canadiens snuck out a 1-0 series lead before dropping Game 2, but Price’s heroics remain.
The former Hart Trophy winner has posted a 1.82 GAA and .949 Sv% through two games this series, adding to a fairly stellar postseason resume himself that includes a 2.51 GAA, .915 Sv% and five shutouts in 59 postseason starts and 62 appearances.
This comes on the heels of a regular season that saw the veteran struggle at times en route to a 2.79 GAA and .909 Sv% for the year, but many predicted Price would turn it on in this series and those folks have been correct to this point.
That doesn’t mean things have been easy on Murray thanks to the Montreal offense.
While the goals haven’t come in bunches, this a Canadiens offense that ranked second with 34.1 shots per game in the regular season while also finishing second with a 54.43% Corsi For% in the regular season.
The Canadiens were also far superior on the road to their play at home during the regular season, so playing these games in Toronto and not Montreal isn’t a negative by any means.
That said, the Canadiens haven’t fared nearly as well in the possession game in this one as their 47.32% Corsi For% slips into the bottom half of the 24-team playoff while their 42.86% Scoring Chances For% ranks them 22nd ahead of only Columbus and Philadelphia in the early going.
Indeed it’s early, however the Canadiens will need to get more going at the other end of the ice if they plan to pull off the major upset in this quick best three-of-five qualifying series.
There’s no secret the Penguins are the better team in this series, and they’ve proven that through two games.
The Penguins have dominated the scoring chances with a 57.14% Scoring Chances For% while holding the edge in high-danger chances as well with a 55% mark in that department.
Containing both the Crosby and Malkin lines has proven difficult as the Canadiens don’t boast another center aside from Phillip Danault that has the experience or skill set to shut down those offensive superstars.
With Malkin on the ice, the Penguins have generated 58.82% of the scoring chances while Crosby’s on-ice scoring chances for percentage sits at 56.82%.
In other words, neither player has been contained much as the Penguins have been able to generate opportunities with their top players on the ice.
With very little outside of Danault and the top pairing of Ben Chiarot and Shea Weber to control things in other own end, the question becomes how long can Carey Price hold down the fort?
He’s built for the task, but allowing the Penguins to dominate at this level for much longer isn’t going to mean good things moving forward.
As a result, I’ll take the far superior team in this one, but I’ll take them to win this one in regulation time at -110 odds.