Montreal’s shocking victory over the Capitals has landed them with another challenge in the raining Stanley Cup Champions in the second round. Pittsburgh won the season series 3-1 but the play of Jaroslav Halak is what makes this series more enduring. He stole games for Montreal and everyone is wondering if he can have the same success against the Penguins.
Let’s break down this series and see who has the edge.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a highly touted offence and received fairly balanced scoring in the first round of the playoffs against the Ottawa Senators. Unsung heroes like Matt Cooke, Bill Guerin and Pascal Dupuis improved the depth of the Penguins attack and were able to take advantage of a defensive team in Ottawa. Co-Maurice Richard winner Sidney Crosby has had great success playing against Montreal in his career and is coming off his best playoff round in his career. Evgeni Malkin had eight points in six games versus the Senators and will look to continue his scoring success against the Canadiens. The biggest question for the forwards is if they can beat Jaroslav Halak?
The Montreal Canadiens have always been a very good offensive team and in the first round they were able to score just enough to get past the Washington Capitals. While guys like Mike Cammaleri, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta will need to produce, the Canadiens’ balanced scoring will have to continue if they can defeat the Penguins. Tomas Plekanec recorded a point per game against the Penguins this year and he will be counted on for secondary scoring. Dominic Moore, who had a terrific series facing off against the Ovechkin line, will move from one star to another as he will put his attention to stopping Sidney Crosby.
Edge: Pittsburgh. Balanced scoring is part of the Penguins attack and while Montreal did it for one round, it remains to be seen if they can do it against a better defensive team.
The Penguins defence was good but not great against the Ottawa Senators and will need to be more consistent against Montreal. The biggest positive was as the series went on, the defence got better, excluding the penalty-kill. Sergei Gonchar got better with time and Jay Mckee was able to fill the void of Jordon Leopold, after Andy Sutton took him out of the series. The Pittsburgh defence is older but more experienced and the key for them will be to handle the speed of the Montreal attack.
The Canadiens’ defenceman overall did a good job defending Alex Ovechkin and the strong Washington offence and will need a similar effort against the Penguins. Montreal blocked the most shots of any playoff team in the first round which was one of the keys to getting past the Capitals. Halak is going to be where it ends but the defenceman’s are going to need to do their job of limiting the second chance opportunities and ensuring the Slovakian goaltender can see the puck.
Edge: Pittsburgh. Halak saved them for one round but you cannot expect him to make 40 saves a night for another series. Pittsburgh defence is an experience crew that understands how to stop good offensive teams and Montreal’s lack of size could play right into their hands.
Pittsburgh’s penalty kill is abysmal, ranking dead last among playoff teams in the first round. Penguins are known as a strong team short-handed but in the first round and late in the season, this was not the case. The power play on the other hand was a bright spot for the Penguins against Ottawa and will need to be once again if the penalty kill doesn’t get better.
Montreal was solid penalty killing against Washington, killing 97 percent of their chances. Their ability to block shots was a key factor in stopping Washintgon and Coach Jacques Martin will need a similar effort in round two. The power play was also very good in the first round, connecting on 20 percent of their chances.
Edge: Montreal. A good penalty-kill and a good power play give the Canadiens the upper hand. If Pittsburgh can’t figure out their woes short handed, they could be in trouble.
Marc-Andre Fleury was less than spectacular in the first round, compiling a .890 save percentage and a 2.75 ERA. Ottawa’s goaltending issues early in the series allowed Fleury to weasel his way through a poor performance but if Halak plays the way he did in the latter part of the first round series, Fleury will have no where to hide. Pittsburgh is going to need the Stanley Cup winning goaltending to come out and make his presence made in the second round.
Jaroslav Halak showed he can be a game changer and in round two, he will have to do the same thing. He made over 90 saves in the last two games of the series and against Crosby and the Penguins; it’s possible he will have to do it again. Pittsburgh’s offence is much stronger on the fore check than Washington’s and also will get into Halak’s crease which can present a different challenge.
Edge: Toss Up! Halak’s play gives Montreal a slight edge but if Fleury can play anything like he did in last years playoffs, we could be in for quite the goaltending battle.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in 6. Too much talent and too much poise will be the reason why Montreal’s run comes short. Pittsburgh’s physical play and size will be too much for the
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Written by Amit Mann