Jake Guentzel

Penguins tie series win Game 2 vs. Canadiens
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Penguins tie series with Canadiens despite Carey Price’s brilliance

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Some people nodded their heads at the “Carey Price could steal a series against the Penguins” talking points; others rolled their eyes. During much of Game 2 of the Penguins – Canadiens 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier, most people were just shaking their heads in disbelief at how great Price was. Even so, the Penguins did just enough to tie the series 1-1 via a 3-1 win.

Price was righteous; Penguins’ power play needs serious work

Carey Price and the Canadiens penalty kill already impressed in Game 1, keeping an on-paper-potent power play to an inefficient 1-for-7. Price & Co. were even stingier in Game 2, keeping the Penguins off the board (0-for-5) despite a steady stream of early opportunities.

In both games, the Penguins failed to score on 5-on-3 power play opportunities.

As with a lot of these situations, special teams successes and failures come down to a mix of factors. On one hand, the Canadiens performed admirably on the PK, and Price was brilliant whenever that structure broke down. But the Penguins’ power play looked flat, and almost cost Pittsburgh Game 2.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Crosby’s goal proved crucial; Penguins dominated Canadiens at even strength in Game 2

When Sidney Crosby scored the 1-0 goal just 4:25 into Game 2, it seemed like it would merely be a prelude to a busy game. Instead, it served as the only goal of Game 2 for significant chunk of the night.

Crosby made some history with that goal, his second in two games. By collecting his 68th career playoff goal, Crosby tied Gordie Howe for 18th most in NHL playoff history. That tally also pushed Crosby’s career playoff point total to 188, tying Crosby with Joe Sakic and Doug Gilmour for eighth all-time.

Late in the third period, Jason Zucker connected on a nice 2-0 goal, while Conor Sheary collected his second assist of Game 2. Jesperi Kotkaniemi then broke Matt Murray‘s shutout attempt to make it 2-1, but that goal came far too late for Montreal to push Game 2 into OT. Like Crosby, Kotkaniemi has two goals in as many games in this best-of-five series. Jake Guentzel‘s empty-netter ended any hint of late-building drama in Game 2.

Overall, the Penguins find themselves breathing a sigh of relief, and maybe catching their breath. Meanwhile, the Canadiens must feel decent about having this series tied 1-1, although they’ll need to give Price more support to advance. For all of the criticism the Penguins’ power play may receive, the Canadiens likely need to work beyond a “bend but don’t break” approach.

5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (Series tied 1-1/Habs lead series 2-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Wraparound: Hockey is back as NHL Return to Play begins

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 NHL Return to Play. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

The Hurricanes will definitely be without a defenseman. The Rangers could potentially not have their top-scoring blue liner Saturday afternoon.

Rod Brind’Amour said that Dougie Hamilton will not play in Game 1 (12 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream). He’s missed practices this week but did skate after the team did on Friday. He’s “getting better for sure,” said the Carolina head coach. The defenseman broke his leg in January and did not return before the league pause in March.

Tony DeAngelo, meanwhile, could get into Game 1 for the Rangers. Head coach David Quinn said he will be a game-time decision. That could open to the door for Libor Hajek to take his spot.

One mystery for both teams is who will start in goal for both teams. Brind’Amour will be choosing between Petr Mrazek and James Reimer, while Quinn has the Igor Shesterkin vs. Henrik Lundqvist decision.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

NHL GAMES TODAY

Game 1: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 3 p.m. ET (NBC; live stream): Edmonton won exactly half of its home games this season (17-11-6, .588 pts%) and went 20-14-3 (.581) on the road. Their home record was tied for 17th in the league in terms of points percentage but they did boast the best power play at home this season (31.7%) – although not surprising considering the Oilers had the best overall power play in the NHL this season (29.5%). Chicago, after finishing last in the Central Division and six points back of the second wild card spot when play was halted in March, is one of the beneficiaries of the 24-team format – now competing for another Cup.

Game 1: Panthers vs. Islanders, 4 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream): After winning two Vezina Trophies with Columbus, Sergei Bobrovsky signed a seven-year, $70 million contract with the Panthers last summer. However, he struggled in his first year in Florida, going 23-19-6 with a .900 save percentage. This matchup pits two teams with opposite styles against each other. The Panthers were one of the highest-scoring teams in the league but were leaky in defense, while the Islanders were a top-10 defense but struggled to find the back of the net.

Game 1: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET (NBC; live stream): Pittsburgh has been one of the many teams to benefit a bit on the injury front thanks to the long break. The biggest addition to their lineup will be a healthy Jake Guentzel, who suffered a scary shoulder injury after scoring a goal on Dec. 30 vs. Ottawa. He was given a 4-6 month timeline after surgery. The Canadiens will undoubtedly be relying on goalie Carey Price to give them a fighting shot against one of the most talented teams in the Eastern Conference. Price, the last goalie to win the Hart Trophy in 2015, started an NHL-high 58 games in the regular season and posted a .909 save percentage.

Game 1: Jets vs. Flames, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream): The only all-Canadian matchup in the Qualifying Round will be the first-ever postseason meeting between Winnipeg and Calgary and just the second game between these clubs this season as the final two games of the season series were cancelled due to play being halted in March. Out of all the 24 teams returning to play, Winnipeg has the longest active winning streak having ended the regular season with four straight wins. They are the only playoff team that has not lost since February – with their last defeat coming in the building they’ll play this entire postseason in, having lost at Edmonton on Feb. 29.

SUNDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 1: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2 p.m. ET (USA Network)
Round-robin: Flyers vs. Bruins, 3 p.m. ET (NBC)
Round-robin: Blues vs. Avalanche, 6:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 1: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET (NHL Network)
Game 1: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier previews
Eastern Conference top seed round-robin preview
Penguins vs. Canadiens
Rangers vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Panthers
Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Western Conference top seed round-robin preview
Jets vs. Flames
Oilers vs. Blackhawks
Predators vs. Coyotes
Wild vs. Canucks

Predictions for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers
Why your team won’t (and will) win the Stanley Cup this season
NHL Power Rankings: Stanley Cup-less veterans to root for
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Flyers, Penguins stand united ‘against social injustice, racism and hate’

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As the U.S. and Canadian anthems played, the Flyers and Penguins stood side by side as a statement against social injustice. Players and coaches lined up on the blue lines “united in solidarity.”

“The Penguins and Flyers, two of the fiercest rivals in sports, united in solidarity this afternoon, to stand up against social injustice, racism and hate. The two teams stood as one, merging players from both franchises together across each club’s respective blue lines prior to today’s game.”

More teams are expected announce their statements of support this week as the NHL’s Return to Play begins.

“A lot has happened since we played our last game. And we felt, both teams, that it was important to show unity given what’s gone on and just wanted to be part of the solution moving forward,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

The NHL will honor front-line pandemic workers and those advocating for social justice causes during the Penguins-Canadiens and Blackhawks-Oilers opening games on August 1.

Players can also create their own helmet and uniform decals that will celebrate “community, charities, businesses, fans, front-line heroes, youth programs and social justice advocates.” The decals will have the “#ISkateFor” and “#WeSkateFor” hashtags.

Bruins, Blue Jackets announce their plans

The Bruins and Blue Jackets announced that their players will lock arms during the anthems before their Thursday exhibition game.

From the Bruins:

“Over the past several months we have been trying to educate ourselves and learn more about racial injustice in our country and around the world. As a team we have decided to lock arms during the playing of the United States and Canadian Anthems as a sign of solidarity with the Black community.

“This action is solely intended to be a positive sign of support for the Black community, and a way for us to use our platform to help end racism.”

From the Blue Jackets:

“On Thursday, our team is joining the Boston Bruins in locking arms as a positive sign of support for the Black community prior to the playing of the National Anthems.

“As a group and as individuals, we have and will continue to listen and learn about racial injustice. Through our platform, we hope to continue the important conversations about equality.

“Racism and prejudice have no place in hockey and no place in society.”

NHL players have been outspoken in their support of social justice since George Floyd’s death in May. Penguins forward Jake Guentzel, a Minnesota native, spoke last month at how he’s been educating himself. Evander Kane, Wayne Simmonds, Matt Dumba, Akim Aliu, and Joel Ward were among the current and former players who created the Hockey Diversity Alliance aiming to eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey.

MORE:
NHL announces zero positive COVID-19 tests during second week of Phase 3
Power Rankings: Stanley Cup-less veterans to root for
Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Canadiens vs. Penguins: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview

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The NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers kick off the Return to Play plan on August 1. This week, PHT will be previewing each series with a look at storylines and end with our predictions for the eight matchups.

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens — TV schedule, start times, channels

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 3: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*
*if necessary

Canadiens – Penguins preview: Top storylines for Stanley Cup Qualifiers series

Fearing Price?

When the NHL was finalizing the Return to Play plans and we knew this would likely be a Qualifying Round matchup, the notion of the Penguins being scared of Carey Price in a short series bubbled up. Of course, any goaltender can get hot and steal a series, especially one that is best-of-five. But the Canadiens netminder hasn’t been his old self for a few seasons now. Price’s even strength save percentage has dipped from the .930s he posted between 2013-14 and 2016-17 to .911, .920, and .916 in each of the last three seasons, per Evolving Hockey.

The Penguins aren’t slacking in terms of experience or offensive skill, so the idea that a goaltender would inspire fear? Seems silly. But every game means something now, so maybe someone threw this out there thinking a little gamesmanship wouldn’t hurt? Either way, how Price plays will be the biggest factor in determining whether the Canadiens pull off the upset or cross their fingers and hope they land Alexis Lafreniere in Phase 2 of the draft lottery.

Danault’s big task

Philip Danault is a player who should get more Selke Trophy love, and his two-way game has prepared him for shutting down Pittsburgh’s weapons. One shift he might be faced with keeping Sidney Crosby in check; the next his job will be to slow Evgeni Malkin. He’ll have his hands full, and with the Penguins being the “home” team for Games 1 and 2 and getting last change, Claude Julien won’t be able to get his preferred matchup right away.

Pittsburgh’s goalie decision

How coy is Mike Sullivan being about who will be the Penguins’ Game 1 starter? He wouldn’t even divulge if both Tristan Jarry and Matt Murray would play in their lone exhibition game against the Flyers. Who would start has long been a question since the Return to Play plan was announced. Sullivan has been using camp to influence his decision, but it’s unknown if he’ll announce his No. 1 before the series begins.

Murray’s ESSV% dropped from .930 in 50 appearances last season to .901 this season. In his first full NHL season, Jarry posted a .929 at 5-on-5 and grabbed the starter’s role from Murray. There’s a slight edge to Murray (.905 vs. .901) over Jarry in that stat after January 1 when each played 15 times. But the pause has evened the playing field for many goalie battles across the NHL. A short series leaves for little room for error, and Sullivan is hoping the 1a and 1b options at his disposal will turn out to be an edge.

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Who’s out? Who might return?

Canadiens: After taking a few days to speak with medical officials, Max Domi, a Type 1 diabetic, has decided to play. He’s since been centering a line with Dale Weise and Jordan Weal. Jesper Kotkaniemi is fully healed after suffering a spleen injury in March. Russian defenseman Alexander Romanov will be able to practice with the Habs during Phase 4, but will be unable to play after signing a three-year contract earlier this month.

Penguins: Sidney Crosby missed practice time in the last week but was on the ice with teammates Monday. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the pause has been Jake Guentzel, who used the time heal up from a shoulder injury suffered in December. The Penguins will be without Nick Bjugstad (spine), Domink Simon (labrum), and Zach Trotman (undisclosed) for the entire Return to Play.

Canadiens’ PK vs. Penguins’ PP

The Penguins power play does a good job of getting to the net to create scoring opportunities. That’s shown in their 136 high-danger scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick. The Habs’ penalty kill? They were among the leaders in high-danger scoring chances allowed and had a 78.7% success rate through 71 games. Special teams are always so important in the postseason, this unique situation will only enhance that.

Pittsburgh’s power play finished middle of the road (19.9%). They had the Grade A chances, as evidenced by their number of high-danger chances, they just couldn’t capitalize. That was a focus during training camp and betting against that extra man unit — one that has finished above 23% in each of the last three seasons — would probably not end well. Montreal was good at keeping many extra man shots to the outside in the offensive zone, but there were enough holes to allow a good amount from down low. Price will be tested and Julien will need to be ready to make adjustments to what Mark Recchi, who handles the Penguins’ power play, throws at them.

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

A look at the Western Conference matchups
Previewing the Eastern Conference

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL Training Camp News: Crosby practices; Habs’ Kulak tested positive for COVID-19

Sidney Crosby practicing with the Penguins and Canadiens defenseman Brett Kulak discussing testing positive for COVID-19 ranked among the biggest NHL training camp news on Friday. There are plenty of other tidbits, however, so let’s roll through various NHL training camp news.

[2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule / NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Habs’ Kulak discusses testing positive for COVID-19

On Thursday, we heard from Canadiens defenseman Xavier Ouellet (as well as Winnipeg’s Anthony Bitetto) about his experiences testing positive for COVID-10. It turns out that Ouellet wasn’t the only Habs defenseman to test positive.

Defenseman Brett Kulak did as well, as TSN’s John Lu reports.

Kulak told Lu and others that he dealt with headaches, a lack of energy, and breathing issues. On the bright side, Kulak said that he’s feeling back to normal. That’s especially good since, you know, Kulak returned to practicing with his Canadiens teammates.

While Kulak doesn’t contribute a ton of offense (zero goals, seven assists in 57 games this season), he brings some value to the table for Montreal. Good things tend to outweigh the bad when Kulak is on the ice, evidenced by some positive multi-season RAPM results via Evolving Hockey:

Brett Kulak Evo RAPM Chart, NHL training camp news
Brett Kulak multi-season RAPM chart via Evolving Hockey

(Again, just don’t expect Kulak to light up scoreboards.)

Sidney Crosby takes another positive training camp step by practicing with Penguins

It was already promising that Sidney Crosby got back to skating after missing some time. Even so, you had to couch some optimism until Crosby actually skated with Penguins teammates.

That happened on Friday, so don’t blame the Penguins for being excited. Apparently Crosby’s Penguins teammates even celebrated the occasion with some stick taps.

Jason Zucker nails it when he praises the Penguins’ depth, cemented further by Crosby being back. At the moment, it looks like the Penguins will flank Crosby with Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary. Meanwhile, Evgeni Malkin joined wingers Zucker and Bryan Rust. With Patric Hornqvist and other quality forwards in the bottom six, it sure looks like the Penguins can ice a formidable lineup.

(If Crosby and others can stay healthy. That’s sadly always been a big if for this team.)

More NHL training camp news and notes

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.