To the surprise of many in the hockey world, we have a semifinal matchup of the Montreal Canadiens vs Vegas Golden Knights. The Canadiens have played extremely well this postseason, upsetting both the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games and sweeping the Winnipeg Jets. However, Vegas has been no slouch either. They were favourites to beat the Minnesota Wild, which they did in seven games. However, they were the slight underdog against the President Trophy-winning Colorado Avalanche, which they dismantled in six games. While many will write off the Canadiens, as they have done the entire playoffs thus far, this matchup promises to be a lot closer than people think.
Montreal Canadiens vs Vegas Golden Knights Series Preview
When you look at both of these lineups, one thing that stands out is the depth throughout both these forward groups. Both teams can roll four lines and have had a balanced scoring attack throughout these playoffs. Vegas has gotten a goal from all but two forwards in the playoffs who have played at least three games for the club. The Canadiens, on the other hand, has seen all but three forwards score who have played at least three games. William Karlsson leads the Golden Knights in points in the postseason with 11 in 13 games while Tyler Toffoli leads for the Canadiens with 10 points in 11 games. For two teams with so much depth, matchups become a lot harder as goals can come from anywhere. However, one area the Canadiens should have the upper hand is the centre depth. It will be hard for the Golden Knights to match the skill the Habs have up the middle.
You can bet the Phillip Danault line will see a heavy dosage of Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone through this series. Danault has done a marvellous job shutting down the top players of the Leafs and Jets through the first two series. Expect much of the same in this one. Vegas does have the upper hand on the Habs however in goal-scoring, as they have managed 3.08 goals per game while the Habs are at 2.55 goals per game.
Tough Defensive Game
One of the keys for both teams throughout this postseason has been their defensive play. The Golden Knights were the best defensive team in the league this season, allowing just 2.18 goals per game. That number is slightly down in the playoffs, however, allowing 2.38 goals per game. On the Canadiens side of things, the Canadiens allowed 2.95 goals per game in the regular season, however, lead the playoffs (outside of the eliminated Maple Leafs) allowing just 2.18 goals per game.
Both defence groups are big and do an excellent job of keeping players to the outside. The Habs may be missing a key part of their defence group, however, as Jeff Petry may have to miss Game 1 due to an injury suffered in Game 3 against the Jets. With Petry out, Alexander Romanov saw his first bit of action in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The youngster has excellent upside and could play a factor in the series.
However, you’ll see the Canadiens lean on Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson in the series. Vegas on the other hand has a much deeper group. While Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore and Alec Martinez lead the way with over 20 minutes of ice time, all seven of the defenders who dressed for Vegas in the series averaged over 16 minutes per game. However, the Canadiens leaned heavily on the big four of Weber, Chiarot, Petry and Edmundson having them all play 22 plus minutes per game. While the other four defenders used in the series averaged less than 14 minutes per game. It’s worked for the Canadiens thus far, however, could be dangerous against a deeper Vegas team. It will be interesting to watch how Ducharme utilizes his group moving forward, especially without Jeff Petry.
The biggest matchup to watch in this series is Carey Price vs Marc-Andre Fleury. Both goaltenders have been playing excellent for their clubs, with Price leading the playoffs with a .935 save percentage. Fleury sits tied for seventh with goalies who have played five games or more with a .923. Still an excellent save percentage. However, Fleury is second behind only Jack Campbell with a 1.91 goals-against-average, while Price sits third with a 1.97. Overall, Price has been the better of the two and is currently on a seven-game win streak. This should come as no surprise, as Price tends to take his game to the next level for the playoffs. However, you can’t write off Fleury either, as he is a current Vezina nominee at 37 years of age and has multiple Stanley Cup rings to his name. Price just outdueled last year’s Vezina Trophy winner in Connor Hellebuyck and will look to do the same against Fleury.
All in all, this will be a tough matchup for both teams. The depth throughout the entire lineup is close. The Canadiens need to take a page out of the Dallas Stars book from last season, and try to limit the quality of scoring chances the Knights get on Price. Dallas was able to stifle Vegas last season playing them tough defensively and Anton Khudobin was outstanding. It was a Stars team that current Canadien Corey Perry was a part of. The Canadiens will have to mimic that play, if they want to eliminate the favourite Golden Knights. They were able to do this to the Maple Leafs and Jets, so as long as they continue to play the same way, they should fair well against the Golden Knights.
The same goes for Vegas, however. They just held off two excellent teams, including a Colorado team who lead the league in goals during the regular season, and sat just five goals back from the lead during the playoffs despite playing four fewer games.
A lot of the focus of this matchup will be on Nick Suzuki and Max Pacioretty, as both are playing their former teams, despite Suzuki never playing a regular-season game with Vegas. However, the key to this series will be goaltending and who bends first. With the way Price is playing, it’s hard to bet against him.
Prediction: Canadiens win 4-2