Evgeni Malkin

Canadiens push Penguins to brink of elimination after Game 3 stunner

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The Canadiens keep giving the Penguins all they can handle, and in Game 3, Pittsburgh couldn’t merely shake their heads and shrug their shoulders at a dominant Carey Price. Instead, after squandering a 3-1 lead, the Penguins must look inward, and get things together quickly, as the Canadiens lead the series 2-1 following a 4-3 win in Game 3.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Canadiens take 2-1 series lead against Penguins after a Game 3 of twists and turns

If you enjoy twists and turns — and maybe chaos? — then Penguins – Canadiens Game 3 was your tonic.

To start things, Shea Weber showed some aggression to give the Canadiens a 1-0 lead. Special teams worked out well for the Penguins early, as Pittsburgh not only killed a delay of game penalty from challenging that Weber goal, but also caught the Habs flat-footed.

In less than a minute, Patric Hornqvist fired home a 1-1 power-play goal thanks to a beautiful pass by Evgeni Malkin. Jason Zucker then connected on another power-play goal 59 seconds later:

Once Teddy Blueger made it 3-1 early in the second period, the Penguins looked like they might be headed toward a big, authoritative win.

Maybe it would have stayed that way in a less dramatic contest, but not Game 3 of Penguins – Canadiens. Maybe a hard, un-penalized hit by Brandon Tanev on Jack Evans gave the Habs the righteous anger to rally:

Or maybe the Canadiens merely took advantage of some sloppiness from the Penguins, from Matt Murray to Jack Johnson. Either way, the Canadiens stunned the Penguins with two quick second-period goals to enter the intermission 3-3, and then Jeff Petry scored yet another huge goal in this best-of-five series.

Even with a late power-play opportunity, the Penguins couldn’t get much going once they fell behind 4-3.

Tough Game 3 for Penguins defense; Murray struggles vs. Canadiens

So, again, the main story doesn’t boil down to the Penguins vs. Carey Price, but that doesn’t mean goalies weren’t a talking point in Game 3. To be more exact, the Penguins might need to wonder a bit about Matt Murray.

Earlier in the Penguins – Canadiens series, it seemed like Matt Murray shook off some of his profound struggles from 2019-20. Mike Sullivan or others have more reason to worry about Murray after Game 3, though. Goals like another big Jeff Petry tally will leave people wondering if the Penguins might be wise to turn to Tristan Jarry now that they’re on the brink of elimination.

It wasn’t all on Murray, mind you. Other Penguins struggled, including polarizing defenseman Jack Johnson.

While Weber got caught on that Malkin-to-Hornqvist goal, he enjoyed one of the best performances of any Canadiens player, collecting a goal and two assists. But Game 3 was very much a team effort, and team win, for the Canadiens against the Penguins.

The Canadiens generally acquitted themselves very well against the Penguins at even-strength. Two of the Penguins’ three goals came on the power play, while the Canadiens scored all four of their Game 3 goals at even-strength. Plenty of storylines will revolve around the 12th-seed Canadiens being underdogs pushing the Penguins, and understandably so. But the Habs haven’t always played like traditional underdogs. At times during Game 3, they absolutely outplayed the Penguins.

For better or worse, this isn’t one of the recent back-to-back game situations, so the Penguins get until Friday to shake off the shock of this Game 3 loss to the Canadiens. They might need that time to find some answers against the Habs, too.

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (MTL leads series 2-1)

Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

* – If necessary

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.

Canadiens-Penguins stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Canadiens-Penguins stream
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NBC’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Canadiens and Penguins. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Canadiens-Penguins Game 3 stream at 8 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Sidney Crosby opened the scoring in the first period and Pittsburgh added two more goals late in the third, one from Jason Zucker and an empty-netter from Jake Guentzel, to even their series against Montreal.

After making 39 saves in Game 1, Carey Price was outstanding again on Monday, making 35 saves to keep the Canadiens within touching distance throughout the game. Price, the 2015 Vezina and Hart winner, has stopped 74 of 78 shots faced in this series.

Crosby has two goals in this series, scoring in each of the first two games. With his goal in Game 2, Crosby tied Gordie Howe for 18th all-time with 68 playoff goals. The only active player with more postseason goals is Crosby’s teammate, Patrick Marleau. The goal also gave Crosby 188 career playoff points, tying Joe Sakic and Doug Gilmour for eighth-most in history.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Wednesday, August 5, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: John Forslund, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Canadiens-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (Series tied 1-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (Livestream)
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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.

‘I always think about Cups’ – Rejuvenated Malkin leads Pens

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PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin is already thinking about the future, the one where the hockey star in the family isn’t the four-time All-Star forward for the Pittsburgh Penguins but his 4-year-old son, Nikita.

The younger Malkin certainly seems to be on his way. The elder Malkin posted a picture on Instagram this week with Nikita decked out in full Penguins gear. Spending an extended amount of time with Nikita during the three-month pause to the NHL season created by the COVID-19 pandemic gave Malkin an appreciation for the energy it takes to wrangle a preschooler.

“He spends so much energy every day,” Malkin said Tuesday.

Like father, like son.

While many of his teammates are still trying to find their footing during training camp as they prepare for a playoff meeting with Montreal early next month, the 33-year-old Malkin is already at full speed.

“You guys can see it when you watch in practice every day,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “The level of intensity … it’s contagious throughout our team. All of our leaders have brought that … but Geno has set the standard as far as bringing his work ethic to the rink every day.”

Pittsburgh has needed it, particularly with captain Sidney Crosby currently out due to an undisclosed injury. The three-time MVP left an intrasquad scrimmage over the weekend. He missed practice Sunday and sat out a scrimmage on Monday. Sullivan, citing the NHL’s privacy policy, has declined to offer any details on Crosby’s status, making Malkin’s energetic play all the more valuable.

Malkin helped carry the Penguins during Crosby’s extended absence last fall following surgery to repair a sports hernia and was leading the team in points (74) by a wide margin when the league shut down in mid-March. He spent most of the “pause” in Miami with his wife and family, trying to stick to his summer workout regiment while adding more inline skating to the mix with the local ice rinks shut down.

Yes, he’s plenty fresh following the layoff. Yet there is another layer of urgency that’s helped Malkin quickly re-engage. Sure, the pursuit of a fourth Stanley Cup is ever-present in his mind. There’s also an appreciation for the game that might have gotten lost in recent years. He can’t remember the last time he went so long without playing. It wasn’t fun.

“I always think about Cups for sure but I’m glad to back for ice,” Malkin said. “It’s my … it’s what I do all my life. It’s a new reality right now it’s not easy for everyone and we understand how important this year for each player. Like, we try (to) do everything back and play playoffs. It doesn’t matter. No fans, it’s hard but it’s still like, we love the game.”

Malkin believes the Penguins are taking the right steps in ramping up the intensity to get ready for what awaits in Toronto next month. The first scrimmage was a sloppy 7-0 domination by one side in which Pittsburgh starting goaltender Matt Murray struggled. He was better on Monday, and so was the intensity.

“We played hard, we try to play like real game, couple hits, blocking shots,” Malkin said. “You know practice is not real game but we try to be close. I like what I see.”

Maybe, but time is running out. At least reinforcements are on the way. Nine players who had been held out due to health protocols were cleared to return on Monday. Sullivan held the group out of the scrimmage, preferring to give them a chance to get some practice reps in before going all out. Their return, a group that includes veteran forward Patric Hornqvist, led the team to add a scrimmage next Saturday. The team leaves for Canada the following day.

“It’s what we think is best for the players and what the team needs,” Sullivan said.