While the Pittsburgh Penguins faced a difficult test from the Ottawa Senators in the first round, the Montreal Canadiens are coming off a monumental upset over the Washington Capitals, an upset that some may consider greater than Anaheim’s upset of San Jose last year or Edmonton over Detroit back in 2006.
Unlike Washington, however, the Pittsburgh Penguins know how to play playoff hockey, having reached the Finals in two straight years as proof. While Washington is contempt in taking shots from a distance and hoping for pretty plays to develop, Pittsburgh realizes that a lot of goals need to be scored “dirty” by cleaning up on rebounds or crashing the net and hoping for the best.
Sidney Crosby in particular is excellent in second-chance rebound goals so a key for Montreal, and their goaltender Jaroslav Halak in particular, would be to prevent rebounds as much as possible and prevent second chances. Montreal would need to slow down play to try and disrupt Pittsburgh’s style of offense. In addition, they would need to duplicate their incredible effort against Washington in blocking shots, stopping 41 shots in that Game 7 against Washington which was exactly the same number of shots Halak himself stopped.
Unlike Washington, whose solution to counteract all those blocked shots was just to “shoot more,” Pittsburgh will be more dynamic in getting around that very active Montreal defense. Pittsburgh will be more patient, they will find open lanes, they will be more selective in their shots, and as mentioned before they will have guys crash the net to create opportunities or to screen Halak.
Always dangerous is Pittsburgh’s power play, led by Evgeni Malkin and his three power play goals. Montreal’s penalty kill, which killed all but one of Washington’s 33 power plays over their seven game series, must be dynamic again to stand a chance. Montreal must have active sticks blocking lanes, laying down to block shots and passes, clear any rebounds that should occur immediately, and of course rely on Jaroslav Halak who is one of the hottest goalies in the playoffs right now.
Conversely, Pittsburgh’s penalty killing was exposed time and time again by Ottawa, giving up seven goals in 22 attempted kills. Mike Cammalleri was Montreal’s best power play skater against Washington, netting two goals and two assists and he should be looked upon as a source for offense on Montreal’s power play especially if Pittsburgh can not get their penalty kill together.
On that note, Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fluery needs to be much more solid in net. While his teammates scored 24 goals over those six games against Ottawa, Fluery gave up 19 and has a save percentage below .900. If Fluery does not rebound from his average series against Ottawa, Montreal will have a clear goaltending advantage in this series, and in the NHL playoffs, having that one advantage means a lot.
In the end, however, Pittsburgh is too experienced and a more playoff-built team than Washington and they should be able to overwhelm Montreal, perhaps later in the series if Halak cools off. Pittsburgh in 6 games.
Source for statistics:
ESPN, Team Statistics, ESPN.com