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Game Preview: Montreal Canadiens @ Pittsburgh Penguins

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It’s a Saturday hockey night in Pittsburgh!

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the second game of the three game season-opening homestand as the Pittsburgh Penguins host a neighbor from the north in the form of the Montreal Canadiens.

Details

Les Habitants de Montreal (0-0-1) vs. Penguins Pittsburgh (1-0-0)

When: 7:00 p.m.

How to watch: Locally broadcasted game on AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh, nationally broadcast in America on the NHL Network.

SBN blog: Habs Eyes on the Prize

Key Storylines

  • “How do you do, fellow kids?”

In Montreal’s opening game against Toronto, they iced no forwards over the age of 30 and had 12 skaters overall who were 25 years of age or under. Montreal was not expected to be much this year, and Toronto has all the hype, yet it was the Canadiens how really pushed play with a 57.3% Corsi For advantage at 5v5, a 53-47% edge in scoring chances and a whopping 60.1-39.9% high danger scoring chance edge. Montreal fell in OT to the Leafs, but they played a strong game. If they can do that on the road against a rival that everyone has been talking about how good they are, they have some room for confidence heading into tonight.

As Evgeni Malkin said on Friday, “It’s a new game from the last 10 years. [there are] new faces. New young players. They skate so much faster. We see no tough guys. The fourth line, third line, they play a fast game, too. Defensemen, there aren’t many big defensemen. They’re young. They’re strong, but they skate so good.”

  • Scary Carey

Montreal has the game’s highest paid goalie in 31-year old Carey Price who is starting year 1 of an eight year deal with an average annual value of $10.5 million. Even though this contract has barely begun, there’s already concern about how wise it was. Price has suffered injury-filled seasons in two of the last three years and was limited to just 49 games (and a pedestrian .900 save percentage) in 2017-18. He’s presumably back to health now and looking to get back to Hart/Vezina form like he was in 2014-15. Price will have to be battling behind such a young team and trying to keep them afloat. Luckily for Montreal, he obviously is one of the best goalies in the game when he’s healthy.

  • Star power

While the Penguins may have found a great third line, when you look at the lineups below the aspect that should really stand out is at the top. Montreal doesn’t have a Sidney Crosby. They don’t have an Evgeni Malkin. They don’t have a Phil Kessel. Or a Kris Letang. They might not even have a Jake Guentzel or Derick Brassard or Justin Schultz. That’s where the Pens need to stand out tonight. Given how all those players were productive and put up points against Washington, they should be primed to do it again tonight.

Opponent

As mentioned, the Habs had a stronger than expected opening game, even if they did lose in OT. Here are the expected lines:

Tomas Tatar - Philip Danault - Brendan Gallagher

Jonathan Drouin - Jesper Kotkaniemi - Joel Armia

Paul Byron - Max Domi - Artturi Lehkonen

Charles Hudon - Tomas Plekanec* - Andrew Shaw

Victor Mete - Jeff Petry

Mike Rielly - Noah Juulsen

Xavier Ouellet - Jordie Benn

*Plekanec was a healthy scratch in game 1, but is at 998 career games played. If they play him tonight, he’ll be on pace to get into game 1,000 in the home opener, which HEOPT thinks could be in the cards.

*Also involved in a healthy scratch situation in the first game of the season was defenseman Karl Alzner - breaking his 622 game ironman streak that dated back to when he became an NHL regular in the 2009-10 season. Alzner signed a big ticket of a five-year deal in summer 2017 as an aging, less-than-agile defenseman and that looks terrible now. Alzner also said he left Washington for Montreal in part because “I want to win” in an all-time backfire move. But, he can cry himself to sleep on the $23 million Montreal handed out so that’s something.

*As Down Goes Brown pointed out, Kotkaniemi set an interesting obsecure record on Wednesday when he became the first player born in the decades of the 2000’s to play in one of the major 4 North American sports leagues. He was one of the youngest players in this draft class too, born in July of 2000. Now that will really make you feel old. And just wait until they show this kid’s face on TV tonight, if you haven’t seen him before you might gasp. He’s 18-years old but with a baby face looks almost half that age. Oh yeah, and he’s a really good hockey player too.

Player to watch

Max Domi hasn’t been a Canadien for long but has already been in the middle of everything. He had 2 assists in his first game, which is pretty good since Montreal scored 2 goals. He caused controversy in the preseason with a meaningless 4-game preseason suspension after a punch to the face of Florida’s Aaron Ekblad. Domi is on the “3rd” line but his 16:49 played was 4th most among forwards in the game so it’s safe to say he will be a major key for Montreal tonight, including on their power play. After trading talented Alex Galchenyuk to acquire Domi in a summer move, MTL definietly needs more great performances to come out of that deal looking like they got a good return.

Pens!

The home team is flying high after winning 7-6 in OT but looking to crack down a little defensively.

“Obviously we were pleased with the result of the game,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “But if we played that game 10 times over, we’d win five and lose five, and that’s not a formula for success.”

“For that reason, that’s not the type of game that we want to play. We want to be able to control outcomes and dictate play out there.”

And it makes sense - you review a lot of the goals against and you can’t point the finger directly at bad in-zone positioning or poor decision making as to hanging out the goalie and leading to high-quality scoring chances.

So it almost goes without saying, this isn’t a league where you can be lax enough to give up 6 goals against per night and hope to end up with a good result. That would be men’s league rec hockey where no one backchecks or tries that hard when they don’t have the puck. NHLers don’t have that luxury and have to bear down and put in a lot of effort and drive and smarts to stay in the right position with the right play.

Penguin to watch

Evgeni Malkin had a 1 goal 2 assist game against Washington. Montreal will surely put their best line and defense on Crosby and Guentzel. That would seem to be the Phil Danault line- Danault was the top match-up forward for the Canadiens against Toronto. Coach Cladue Julien leaned on Danault the most in the faceoff circle; he took 24 of MTL’s 59 total faceoffs in the season opener (almost 40%).

So who is left to play against Malkin? Domi? The barely 18 year old Kotkaniemi? The Mike Reilly - Noah Juulsen pair? Matching up against star centers was an issue against Toronto, Auston Matthews (2) and John Tavares combined to score all three of TOR’s goals. Granted, one was in 3v3 OT and another on the power play, but still, point being from reading the depth chart it’s easy to see that Montreal is still searching for quality centers if they want to get back to a playoff caliber team.

We’re buying really, really big on Malkin-Kessel tonight at even strength. They really should be kicking in some production, especially after a big game last time out.