The 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers is almost here! Twenty-four teams will take to the ice in two bubble cities to battle it out for the ultimate trophy. Phase 4 of the NHL’s return to play plan begins with the qualifying round and round-robin tournament. One of those matchups being between the 5-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the 12-seeded Montreal Canadiens.
Two very different teams, statistically speaking, this 5-game series will be interesting, to say the least. The Penguins qualified for their 14th straight postseason and are looking for their third Stanley Cup in five years. On the other hand, Montreal barely qualified for their second playoff run during the same time span. The Canadiens benefitted immensely from the NHL’s modified postseason structure. Let’s take a closer look at what each team brings to the table.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Montreal Canadiens
Pittsburgh Scoring Depth
The Penguins had a relatively solid regular season. They persevered through an incredible amount of injuries to some of their most influential players, including but not limited to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, and Kris Letang. The ability of their defence to produce points was the most important factor that kept them near the top of their division.
Although they were trending downhill in early March, the Penguins always kick their play into high-gear during the playoffs. Production from the top two lines shoots through the roof, and their offensive focused defence makes a huge impact on their game.
The Penguin’s acquired veteran left-winger and 20 goal scorer Jason Zucker at the trade deadline. Adding him to a line that has Conor Sheary and Crosby’s playmaking skills makes their top line deadly. Guentzel, Malkin, and Bryan Rust fill out their top-six forwards. Malkin and Rust led the Penguins in points during the regular season with 74 and 56 points, respectively. Bottom six forwards like Patric Hornqvist and Jared McCann contributed offensively with 30 plus point seasons, as well. Contending with Montreal’s lacklustre offence shouldn’t be a problem for this experienced squad.
Montreal Canadiens Defence
Ending the regular season 10 points out of normal playoff contention does not bode well for the Canadiens. With very little offensive power, Montreal will have to rely on its defence to keep the Penguins off the scoreboard.
Veteran defenceman Shea Weber, having one of his best seasons in years, and underrated Jeff Petry will be holding down the blue line for the Canadiens. With help from Ben Chiarot, Victor Mete, Xavier Ouellet, and Christian Folin the Canadiens need to do what they did best during the regular season, suppress shots. Shutting down Pittsburgh’s offence is the only chance Montreal has at getting past them and into the next round.
Goaltending will be important in this qualifying round matchup, and what will most likely determine the outcome of this series. With two Vezina-winning goalies facing off it all depends on who gets hot.
Penguin’s netminder Matt Murray, a two-time Stanley Cup winner as a rookie, is a postseason phenom. Unfortunately, the 2019-20 season was a bust for Murray. With a 2.87 goals-against-average and a .899 save percentage, this season was one of the worst the 26-year-old has had in the league. Backup goaltender Tristan Jarry, who boasts a 2.43 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in the league might be the better choice for the Penguins postseason run.
On the other side starts Carey Price. A superstar in the league whose numbers have gone down in recent years. Still, highly touted by the NHLPA and admired by players around the league, Price will have to perform like his old self if the Canadiens want to stay in Toronto.
Although many believe that the Montreal Canadiens have the potential to upset the Pittsburgh Penguins, the numbers just don’t add up. Montreal’s defence doesn’t match up with Pittsburgh’s offence. Dynamic duo Crosby and Malkin leading a talented and experienced team. They will be too much for the Canadiens to compete with.
Even if Price plays as he did just 5 years ago, the Penguins will find a way to move on. The Penguins always seem to find a way to win.
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