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Montreal Canadiens at Pittsburgh Penguins Betting Preview

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:
Jul/31/2020

Add another sport to the list of leagues that is making its return to action. The NHL is back this weekend, with the 24 remaining teams set to begin in the bubbles of Edmonton and Toronto. In Toronto, one of the Eastern Conference matchups starts their best-of-five series on Saturday, as the No. 12 Montreal Canadiens take on the No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins. 

Here is a preview for Game 1 of the Canadiens-Penguins series, along with a free pick. As it stands now, the Penguins are -160 favorites to grab the victory.

Canadiens Outlook 

The Canadiens were one of the biggest beneficiaries of the NHL deciding to bring back 24 teams rather than 16. Montreal was just 31-31-9 when the season was halted, well outside the playoff picture in the East with 71 points. But the return of hockey has maybe given them new life, as they are the lowest seed in the Eastern Conference to be participating in the postseason but have a chance to pull off the early upset.

When the season ended, the Habs ranked 19th with 2.93 goals scored and 3.10 goals allowed. They are excellent at putting shots on net, however, ranking second with 34.1 shots on goal per game. But the special teams was a little bit of a concern, as the power play converted 17.7 percent of the time (22nd) and 78.7 percent for the penalty kill (19th).

Montreal's best player in terms of point production is Tomas Tatar. The left wing led the team with both 22 goals and 39 assists, the only player to have more than 50 points for the Habs this season. A couple of young centers will be there to help out Tatar; Phillip Danault and Max Domi. Danault managed 47 points, 34 of which came via assists, while Domi chipped in 44 points. RW Brendan Gallagher, C Nick Suzuki, and D Jeff Petry also had 40 points, with veteran defenseman and captain Shea Weber not too far behind. 

Penguins Outlook 

Although the Penguins had their playoff spot well under control, the stoppage ended a slide that moved them further down the standings. Pittsburgh lost seven of their final 10 games, ending with a 40-23-6 record. While the record was still solid, the slide kept the Penguins from playing in the round robin group to determine seeding, and will instead have them play in the best-of-five qualifying round.

Pittsburgh managed to crack the top-10 in goals per game with 3.2 while finishing 11th with 2.84 goals allowed. They also allowed just 29.7 shots per game on average, the sixth-fewest in hockey. As far as special teams, the Penguins were fairly average with their 19.9 percent conversion rate on the power play, but ranked just inside the top-10 with an 82.1 percent penalty kill rate.

The Penguins are once again relying on their big name stars to carry them to the Stanley Cup. At the forefront this year was Evgeni Malkin, the veteran center who had 25 goals and a team-high 49 assists. Just two players had more than 50 points for the Penguins this year; Malkin with 74 and RW Bryan Rust with 56. Superstar captain Sidney Crosby battled injuries during the regular season, but managed to put up 47 points in 41 games. D Kris Letang and LW Jake Guentzel were the only two others to reach the 40-point plateau.

Goalies 

For the Habs, it's no surprise that Carey Price will get the nod in Game 1. The former Vezina winner went 27-25-6 this year with a 2.79 GAA and .909 save percentage. As for the Penguins, they are faced with the decision to go with either Matt Murray or Tristan Jarry. Murray went 20-11-5 with a 2.87 GAA and 8.99 save percentage before being replaced by the rookie Jarry, who finished the season at 20-12-1 with a 2.43 GAA and .921 save percentage. 

Previous Matchups 

This won't be the first time these two teams battled each other this season. In their first meeting in early December, the Canadiens snapped Jarry's shutout streak en route to a big 4-1 victory in Pittsburgh. Then a little under a month later, the Penguins won the rematch in Montreal 3-2 with Brandon Tanev scoring the game-winner in overtime. In the third and final matchup on Valentine's Day, the Penguins won at home 4-1 with Jason Zucker leading the way with two goals. 

Prediction 

It will certainly be difficult to anticipate how these teams will look after months of being away from competitive hockey. But regardless of who they start in net, I think Pittsburgh's defense will prove to be huge against a team that was inconsistent on offense for much of the season. Look for the battle-tested Penguins to take Game 1 on Saturday.

Head on out to Realbookies.com, the top pay per head bookie site and take the Penguins -160. 

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