Wednesday nights in the NHL have been branded by NBC Sports as “The Night You Love to Hate”. Each week the network hosts a big time rivalry game where two teams that despise one another get to face-off in front of a national audience. This week’s Wednesday Night Rivalry features the Montreal Canadiens traveling to the Consol Energy Center to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Both the Canadiens and the Penguins fall into that category of teams you are either a fan of or hate with a passion. It can be assumed that Pittsburgh fans dislike like Montreal and vice-versa. However, Penguins vs. Canadiens is not one of the match-ups that comes to mind when I think of historic hockey rivalries.
Arguing whether this is an actual rivalry is a debate for a different day because no matter what we think NBC has decided to present this match-up as one. For that reason, it will be treated as such. So let’s take this opportunity to dig a little deeper into this Montreal vs. Pittsburgh rivalry before they hit the ice on Wednesday night.
The Montreal Canadiens were the Pittsburgh Penguins first ever opponents when they joined the National Hockey League in 1967-68. Even though the Penguins had the benefit of playing in front of their fans, the Habs welcomed the black and gold into the league by beating them 2-1.
In the teams previous ten games against one another, the Penguins have managed to come away with a victory on six occasions. The goal totals have also been in Pittsburgh’s favor as they have found the back of the net 35 in their last ten games against Montreal, while the Canadiens have scored 28 goals. In addition, the Habs have been shutout twice since March of 2013 by the black and yellow.
When it comes to postseason play, these two teams have only played each other on two occasions. The first time came in the first round of the 1998 Stanley Cup Playoffs when Montreal beat Pittsburgh in six games. In 2010, the two teams met in the Eastern Conference semifinals which once again conclude with the Canadiens moving on (this time it took seven games).
As we enter the second month of the 2015-2016 NHL regular season, the Montreal Canadiens have demonstrated that they are the superior team when compared to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Habs are currently sitting pretty with a 12-2-1 record, while the Pens are at 9-4-0. That is a seven point difference in favor of the men from Montreal.
When it comes to winning a hockey game, it is all about scoring more goals than your opponent. So far this season, Montreal’s 3.67 Goals Per Game average is 1.44 better that Pittsburgh’s 2.23. The Canadiens also have a superior Goal Differential Per Game average with 1.87. The Penguins average goal differential is only 0.46. The Habs currently sport the best numbers in the league when it comes to both Goals Per Game and Goal Differential per game. However, the Pens have demonstrated stronger defense at this point allowing the fewest amount of goals in the entire NHL with 1.77 average.
Players to Watch
On the Montreal side of things, the list of players to look out for is quite extensive. The Canadiens hot start has resulted in nine different players having double-digit point totals. Tomas Plekanec currently leads his team with fifteen points but P.K. Subban, Brendan Gallagher, David Desharnais, Andrea Markov, and Max Pacioretty are right behind him with fourteen. The team’s hottest goal scorer is Dale Weiss with eight, and he will look to continue his fantastic beginning to the season against the Penguins.
Until recently the Penguins were playing very much under the high expectations that were given to them before the season kicked off. However, they have appeared to turn things around as many members of this star-studded roster have started shaking off the rust. Evgeni Malkin has been the team’s best forward and he currently leads Pittsburgh in points with eleven. It is important to note that six players on Montreal have a higher point total (the Habs have played two more games). Former Maple Leaf Phil Kessel is right behind Malkin with ten. The biggest surprise for the Penguins has been the poor start from Sidney Crosby. In fourteen games, Crosby has only managed to record two goals and five assists. One has to believe that this slump cannot last forever and Crosby will once again the game-changer we all know and love (or hate).
Wednesday night’s showdown between the Penguins and Canadiens features two of the hottest goaltenders in the NHL. The crazy thing is that one of them is filling in for the injured Carey Price, who just so happens to be the best goalie on the planet. Mike Condon has been nothing short of fantastic for Montreal in Prices absence. He currently has a 6-0-1 record in his seven games between the crease with a 1.57 Goals Against Average and a .940 Save Percentage. We are still in the regular season which means that Marc-Andre Fleury has not yet started to stink. In his twelve games played, Fleury is 7-5-0 with a 1.93 GAA and a .933 SV%.
This game should turn out to be one for the ages with two very good hockey teams. The Penguins have not gotten off to the start they had hoped for but the potential is still there for them to be a dominant force in the NHL this season. With that being said, it is still very hard to go against the Montreal Canadiens at this point. They truly look unstoppable and are the hottest team in hockey because of it. Although it may come down to the wire, I still expect the Canadiens to come out victorious in their “rivalry” matchup against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.