When the Montreal Canadiens take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2 on Monday, they’ll do so up 1-0 in their qualifying-round series.
Despite the Canadiens taking the early lead in the best-of-five series, though, they’ll still enter the game as underdogs who have a clear up-hill battle to fight.
It seems silly to say this, but a big key to the Canadiens succeeding against the Penguins will be a quick start. The Canadiens did take the 1-0 lead in the first period off Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s first-career playoff goal, but they were also outshot 18-6 by the Penguins in the period as a whole.
The Canadiens would eventually score the game’s second goal as well in the second period with Nick Suzuki also notching his first-career postseason marker. They’d even out-shoot the Penguins the rest of the game despite finishing with fewer shots than Pittsburgh as a whole.
Still, the Penguins would make a game out of things and shortly after Suzuki’s goal, they’d tie the game at two goals apiece, erasing any momentum the Canadiens created.
Canadiens Need to Help Price
Carey Price was lights-out for the Canadiens in the game, facing 11 high-danger shots and pushing all 11 aside at even strength. He’d also make 30 saves on 31 even-strength shots as a whole.
While Price has proven he can be the personification of a brick wall when the lights shine the brightest, it’s also unrealistic to expect him to be at his best throughout every game and every series of the postseason. This is why the Canadiens will need to start quick and relieve some of the pressure off of him early.
The team was fortunate to lead on the score sheet despite being out-shot but that type of luck runs out over time. Creating opportunities early and often will be crucial for the Habs.
Statistically, the Canadiens’ forwards were all outmatched by the Penguins’ forwards and that kept the Penguins in the game the entire way.
Though the Canadiens may be the expected underdogs coming into this series, they also showed that they could hang with a Penguins team who finished fifth in the Eastern Conference in win-percentage. That momentum won’t be lost on them and the pure excitement was felt when Jeff Petry scored the overtime winner.
Canadiens Need to Play Smart in Game 2
For the Canadiens, playing smart, disciplined and capitalizing on opportunities while working on limiting the Penguins shot-opportunities will be key to continuing this run and forcing an elimination game for the Penguins in Game 3.
To be fair, the Canadiens did do their part in mitigating a lot of the Penguins shot opportunities in Game 1 as they’d outmatch the Penguins in blocked shots 27 to 17.
What the team didn’t do, however, was limit their penalty minutes nor capitalizing on opportunities when they could.
The Canadiens would amass a total of 14 penalty minutes to the Penguins four, giving up seven power plays to their opposition in Game 1. The Canadiens would only allow one goal down a player, but they can’t get themselves in penalty trouble again in Game 2 if they expect to come out ahead.
They also didn’t capitalize on some of the opportunities they were given, including two power plays of their own and even an overtime penalty shot. The Penguins couldn’t convert their own penalty shot late in the third period but the Canadiens could have easily made them pay for that just a little while later in overtime.
Obviously the Canadiens would come out on top of the game and this missed opportunity didn’t come back to bite them. but it goes without saying that working on converting these opportunities moving forward will go a long way.
Canadiens Proving They Deserve to Be Where They Are
This may seem like a lot of negative to say against a team who happens to hold a 1-0 lead in the series, but it should be seen more as constructive criticism than a shot at the team.
In the end, the Canadiens even taking one game against the Penguins was shocking to many, especially when that game was the first of the series. Still, the fact that the Canadiens were able to do so despite being outclassed for much of the game says a lot about how unpredictable the postseason can be.
It also says a lot about how the Canadiens don’t have any quit in them and seem ready and willing to put it all on the line to win. Being the underdogs certainly adds a pretty significant chip on their shoulders and for Montreal, that chip could be the difference maker between an eventually playoff trip or a trip back home.
Canadiens Benefit From the Restart Regardless of Outcome
Should the Canadiens lose the series, they’ll have a 12.5 percent chance at the first overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, which obviously isn’t a bad consolation prize to winning the Stanley Cup. Getting this invaluable playoff experience and the taste for postseason hockey could also go a long way for not only the young players on the roster but the veterans who could be eager to return next season.
Regardless of what happens moving forward, the Canadiens are one of the big winners of NHL’s restart plan given that they’re getting this playoff experience and a shot at the Stanley Cup in a season they otherwise wouldn’t have, while also having a legitimate shot at landing a player like Alexis Lafreniere in the Draft.
For now, the Canadiens can’t focus on the Draft or the Stanley Cup. Their attention has to be solely placed on beating the Penguins. With a coach like Claude Julien at the helm, a coach who has had tremendous success in the NHL and the postseason, focusing shouldn’t be too difficult.
Game 2 will be an interesting affair and it’ll either help the Canadiens tilt the scales even more in their favor or at worst, end up tied in a series that would essentially become a best-of-three at that point. Only time will tell.
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