Once hockey resumes and the Penguins start their Stanley Cup journey, it will be in a best-of-five qualifying series against the Montreal Canadiens. There has already been much made about this series, from whether or not the Canadiens should even be here to debating if the Penguins are afraid of facing Carey Price.
While facing Price comes with its own dangers, he is far from the goalie he was five years ago when he won the Hart Trophy. Although it is more than possible Price find his form in a short series and steal the show, it’s more likely the Canadiens pull an upset based on problems their forwards and defensemen can create for the Penguins.
Instead of focusing on Price, here are three guys that could cause the Penguins more than a few headaches when the two sides face-off in the qualifying round.
Position: Left Wing
Season Stats: 68GP-22G-39A-61P
Fancy Stats: 60.1CF%-75.8CF/60-3.16xGF/60
Now through two seasons with the Canadiens, Tatar has established himself as one of, if not the best, forward on the team. He plays the left wing on the Canadiens top line and his stats reflect just how good he has been for Montreal. This season, he led the team in all offensive categories and set a new career high in points with 61 in 68 games played.
Possessions wise, Tatar posts great numbers and helps elevate his fellow linemates in the process. His strong two-way game is something the Penguins will have to atone for, especially the likes of Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, two guys who are likely to see their fair share of Tatar come game time.
Season Stats: 71GP-13G-34A-47P
Fancy Stats: 59.4CF%-72.1CF/60-2.98xGF/60
Danault is the centerpiece of the Canadiens top line, flanked by the aforementioned Tatar on his left and Brendan Gallagher on his right. Together, the trio has developed into one of the best five-on-five units in the league. Danault, along with his linemates, will be tough test for the Penguins top pairing of Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin.
Though not a huge goal scorer himself, Danault can dish the puck for guys like Tatar and Gallagher to turn into goals. His possession numbers are not quite as good as what Tatar put up this season, but he is not far off and does not drag his linemates down in any way. He boasts a 54.5% face-off win percentage this season and it will be interesting to see him to head-to-head with Crosby on the ice.
Season Stats: 71GP-11G-29A-40P
Fancy Stats: 56.8CF%-65.4CF/60-2.6xGF/60
Shea Weber will grab the headlines on the Canadiens blue line, but Jeff Petry success could determine the Habs fortunes in this series. Until the coronavirus shutdown hit, Petry played in all 71 Canadiens games and led the team in scoring among defensemen. For the entire team, Petry was the sixth highest scoring player on the team and eclipsed the 40 point mark for the third straight season.
When Petry is on the ice he is spends most of his time alongside Brett Kulak on the team’s second pairing. Together, Petry and Kulak posted a respectable 60.3 CF% this season but that number is reflective more on Petry’s play than Kulak’s. The top pairing of Shea Weber and Ben Chariot will get the Sidney Crosby assignment, so it will be up to Petry and his partner to handle the Evgeni Malkin line.
(All fancy stats courtesy Natural Stat Trick)
These three guys above are all very good players and just a sampling from a roster than looks better on paper than many may expect by looking at their record. Last week, Adam detailed why facing the Canadiens gives him pause despite their record. In that piece, all three of the players above were mentioned as possible causes for concern.
If the Canadiens have any hope of shocking the hockey world in this qualifying series, one (or more) of them will need to step up in a big way to help stem what should be a relentless Penguins attack.