Prediction, Preview, and Odds
#1 Montreal Canadiens 5.5 vs.
#2 Pittsburgh Penguins -160
Saturday, August 1, 2020 at 8:00pm EDT
PPG PAINTS Arena, Pittsburgh
Written by Nick Raffoul

The Montreal Canadiens will take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in Toronto, Canada in the qualifying round of the NHL’s return to play format on Saturday night.

The Canadiens are the No. 12 seed and can make the postseason by winning the best-of-five series against Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Penguins should be able to cruise into the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a win. Can the Penguins take care of business in Game 1 of their series in Toronto against the Canadiens?

Canadiens hoping Price can get hot in short series

Montreal traded Ilya Kovalchuk, Nick Cousins, Nate Thompson, and Marco Scandella at the trade deadline. They slid down the Eastern Conference standings as a result but still have plenty of young talent to compete. Not to mention, Tomas Tatar and Brendon Gallagher still have plenty left in the tank. Tatar had a team-leading 61 points before the season stopped and the blue line is still anchored by 34-year-old stalwart Shea Weber, so the Canadiens can’t be written off completely in this series. Max Domi also opted into the NHL Restart despite lingering health concerns.

Carey Price will be between the pipes for the Canadiens in a short series. The New York Times ran an article claiming that the Penguins fear of facing Price in a shortened series complicated discussions about returning to play. Price is one of 10 active netminders with at least 60 playoff games under his belt but he owns the fewest number of wins of that group. He also ranks eighth in save percentage (.914) and GAA (2.53) among that group. Price went 27-25-6 with a 2.79 GAA and .909 save percentage in 58 games during the 2019-2020 season. In three starts against the Penguins this season, Price was 1-1-1 with a 2.32 GAA and .929 save percentage. Price has made 31 career starts versus Pittsburgh, posting a losing 13-14-5 record to go along with a 2.95 GAA and a .907 in those matchups.

All eyes on net for Penguins

Penguins’ captain Sydney Crosby said that he felt good during the exhibition game against the Philadelphia Flyers. That’s good news for Pittsburgh, as Crosby played in just 41 games while nursing various health issues this season. The Pens rank 10th in the NHL in scoring at 3.20 goals per game and are tied for ninth in the league on the penalty kill at 82.1 percent.

Before the NHL season came to a halt, goaltender Matt Murray was battling Tristan Jarry for the No. 1 goaltender job in Pittsburgh. With the playoffs looming, that notion seems to have gone out the window with Murray in line to start Game 1. According to a report by The Athletic, the Penguins still have “extremely high expectations” for Murray, who started four of the team’s final five games before the season came to a pause. However, Murray allowed two goals in the 3-2 exhibition game loss against the Flyers, so there is still a chance that he could share the goaltending duties with Jarry if he struggles versus the Canadiens.

Murray enters the return to play format with a 20-11-5 overall record to go along with a 2.87 GAA and .899 save percentage in 38 starts. While Murray had been flashing improvement as the season wore on, he still finished with a disappointing 5-5-1 record and a 2.93 GAA in 11 starts after the All-Star Break.

However, given his success against the Canadiens, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him manning the crease in Game 1. The 26-year-old goaltender won his only start versus the Canadiens earlier this year, stopping 26 of 28 shots on the night. In five career starts against Montreal, Murray is 4-1-0 with a 2.19 GAA and .921 save percentage.

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Full-Game Side Bet

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The layoff gave Pittsburgh a chance to get healthy. Jake Guentzel is back. Sydney Crosby is healthy and that means the Pens are going to be a tough out in this format. Montreal ended up as sellers at the trade deadline, so they are even younger than they were when the season began. They were 24th in the NHL when the season paused and have really no business competing in the postseason. Pittsburgh has the advantage in nearly category, so no matter who is between the pipes for the Pens, look for them to steal Game 1 of this series on Saturday night.

Prediction: Pittsburgh Penguins -1.5

Full-Game Total Pick

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These two teams are only pegged for 5.5 goals but given the long layoff, that seems a bit low. Neither team has a dominant power play or a strong option between the pipes but with Pittsburgh at full strength, there should be plenty of high-danger scoring chances in this one. The Canadiens were also fairly good on the road in this season, which leads me to believe that they will perform well on neutral ice. They also have nothing to lose at this point, so expect some free-flowing play from this young Canadiens’ roster. Take Game 1 to go over the projected total on Saturday night.

Prediction: Over 5.5
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Written By Nick Raffoul

Shortly after graduating with an Honors in Business Administration, Nick turned his attention from traditional stocks and bonds to investing in the performance of sports teams. And has now joined our team here at Winners & Whiners. Nick uses a combination of advanced stats and historical data to create sports investment models to identify value and generate consistent profits. Let Nick win for you.