“Penguins in 3”
Those were the words of many a hockey analyst when predicting the outcome of the Montreal Canadiens - Pittsburgh Penguins qualifying round. I don’t blame them; the matchup seems as lopsided as can be.
As it turns out, those analysts will have to eat their words, as the Canadiens stunned the Penguins in game one, winning 3-2 in overtime.
The Canadiens started the game with a 2-0 lead, off of goals from youngsters Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki. At 9:55 in the second period, Sidney Crosby banked a goal off of Carey Price to split the lead in half. Later on the power play, Bryan Rust scored to tie the game. Despite chances for both teams – including a 5-on-3 for the Pens – the game remained locked at 2 heading into overtime. After killing off a Penguins power play, Jeff Petry blasted a cannon of a shot past Matt Murray to win the game, 3-2 for Montreal.
The Kids are Alright
One thing that coach Claude Julien mentioned as being very valuable for the Canadiens is the playoff experience that their young players will gain from this series.
Julien didn’t hesitate to give his players that experience. He regularly played 20-year-olds Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The kids excelled. Both Suzuki and Kotkaniemi scored, and Suzuki especially held his own in the faceoff circle. Not only were they effective at playing against stalwart players, but now that Suzuki and Kotkaniemi know their abilities against the likes of Crosby and Malkin, their confidence should skyrocket. A lack of confidence is what derailed Kotkaniemi’s season, but a confident Kotkaniemi is a dangerous player. This series should be excellent for his and Suzuki’s development.
The Penalty Kill Was Great – But Overused
The Montreal Canadiens took seven penalties in this game. They managed to kill six of them, including a full 1:30 of 5-on-3. The only power play goal surrendered was courtesy of Bryan Rust in the second period. It’s nice to see the penalty kill do well, especially after a relatively poor showing in the regular season, but seven penalties in a playoff game is unacceptable. Now, five of the seven penalties went to either Philip Danault or Jonathan Drouin. Claude Julien really needs to get through to those two players on the importance of discipline. In a short, tight series an ill-timed penalty can cost the Canadiens a spot in round one. Seven penalties cannot happen again, or this series will be a mighty short one.
Carey Price was Carey Price
The Canadiens took a while to find their legs at the start of the game. They were outshot 18-6 in the first period, but came away with a 2-0 lead. Why? Because Carey Price was sharp, and Matt Murray was just okay. Carey Price went on to make 39 saves on 41 shots, and looked to be in top form on the Penguins’ many power plays. If the Canadiens want any semblance of a chance in this series, they need Carey Price to play like he did in game one. The Canadiens can take a sigh of relief knowing that he is still capable of such a performance.
The Penguins were upset that they have to face a rested Carey Price in the qualifying round. Hockey Twitter scoffed at this grievance, given Price’s inconsistent play of late. It appears, however, that the Penguins were justified in their discontent. Not that I care, though. If they can’t handle Carey Price then they shouldn’t succeed in the playoffs.
A Few Extra Notes From Last Night:
· Max Domi deserves better linemates than Jordan Weal and Dale Weise. Domi cannot be expected to produce offensively if he isn’t given the proper help. I hope that Julien inserts someone like Ryan Poehling instead of Weise next game. At least Poehling has some offensive flair. Weise was great in the 2014 playoffs for the Canadiens, but he looked out of place in game one.
· There were two penalty shots awarded in this game: one to Conor Sheary and one to Jonathan Drouin. Both Drouin and Sheary failed to score on their chances. This was the first time that two penalty shots were called in a playoff game since 1923.
· The Canadiens’ power play failed to score. Big surprise.
· After a shaky exhibition game, the Canadiens’ defence corps stepped up against the Penguins. They were excellent on the penalty kill, and some even chipped in offensively, with Brett Kulak and Jeff Petry both registering a point, and Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot each with three shots on goal.
· Game Two: Monday, August 3rd at 8:00 PM Eastern Time.
Stay safe, everyone, and enjoy the wonderful return of hockey.
Go Habs Go.
Signed, Le Bo