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Penguins vs. Canadiens: Montreal’s lines thin down the middle without Max Domi

Checking in with Montreal shows a real weakness to their roster without Max Domi

NHL: FEB 14 Canadiens at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As we look to the lines the Penguins used yesterday, naturally some attention and focus is going to shift north to Montreal to see what the opponent will do.

The Canadiens rocked the hockey world by announcing a few positive COVID tests for players, which apparently has been walked back a little by reports of some false positives.

Our pals at Habs Eyes on the Prize have all the details for how practice went, here it goes:

Missing from practice were Max Domi, who is waiting to confirm his presence into the team’s training camp as well as Alexander Romanov, who is making his way to Montreal and will then undergo a quarantine period where he needs four negative tests before taking to the ice. Xavier Ouellet, Josh Brook, and Brett Kulak were also out.

At forward, it does look to be a pretty standard lineup without Domi, with Jesperi Kotkaniemi taking a regular spot at centre, along with Jake Evans. For now, Ryan Poehling, Charles Hudon, Laurent Dauphin, and Alex Belzile are on the outside looking in.

What really sticks out, as Type-1 diabetic Max Domi takes 7-10 days to consider his immediate playing future, is just how weak the Habs are down the middle. Nick Suzuki, Jesper Kotkaniemi and Jake Evans average 21.3 years old. They have all of 199 combined NHL season games under their belts, none in the playoffs.

Suzuki is a legit NHL player, even at just 20 years old, but the other two centers played more games with AHL Laval (64) than they did with NHL Montreal (49) this season.

That trio of centers, especially when the Penguins have last change in a majority of the series, going up occasionally against Evgeni Malkin or even Sidney Crosby is a major mismatch, perhaps the biggest one on paper that will exist between Pittsburgh and Montreal. That isn’t to say the Pens will automatically win, but it looks to be a significant advantage to have.

The matchup game with be an interesting chess game between coaches Mike Sullivan and Claude Julien. Julien will surely be moving to match Phillip Danault, an excellent defensive-minded center, to face Crosby as much as possible.

The Pens, for their part, probably want their checking line of three defensive players in Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger and Brandon Tanev to neutralize the Danault line that includes Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher. Tatar and Gallagher’s 22 goals a piece led Montreal this season.

The Habs’ issue, if Domi is unavailable, is that they become noticeably weaker down the middle of the ice. One of the Pens’ biggest strengths in the last 15 years is utilizing their advantage by being deeper and better at that same spot. With out without Domi, it will be a tough hill for Montreal to climb, but if he is unable to play safely in this climate, the extreme lack of youth and experience by the other non-Danault centers for Montreal could be a major turning point of the series.