Canadiens at Penguins Picks and NHL Betting Odds
by Alan Matthews - 4/17/2013
It's a potential Eastern Conference Finals preview on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh as the two current top seeds in the East face off when Montreal visits. If the Habs have any chance of catching Pittsburgh for the top spot in the East, this is a must-win. The Pens lead the Canadiens by seven points with six games remaining for both teams (including this one). Pittsburgh still has an outside shot at winning the Presidents' Trophy for the NHL's top overall seed, but it is six points behind West-leading Chicago, which also has six games left.
Penguins star Sidney Crosby hasn't played since leaving a March 30 win against the Islanders early with a broken jaw. He did skate Monday and Tuesday before practice with a protective mask on. He certainly won't return for this game, but the team is hoping he can play a game or two before the postseason. Amazingly, he still leads the NHL in points (56) despite playing six fewer games than Tampa Bay's Steve Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, who are tied at No. 2 entering Tuesday's action. I'd still be a bit surprised if Crosby wins the Hart Trophy if he misses 10 or so games in such a short season. Washington's Alex Ovechkin is making a major late push for the Hart, and Chicago's Patrick Kane certainly deserves consideration.
Crosby isn't the only injury concern for Pittsburgh. Defenseman Paul Martin has missed the past seven games with a broken hand and is unlikely to return by the end of the regular season. Winger James Neal was having a great season (18 goals, 14 assists) but has missed three games with a concussion. He's now symptom-free, but there's no timetable on his return. Certainly the Pens will be cautious after seeing concussions cost Crosby so much time the previous two seasons. There's a chance that Evgeni Malkin will play Wednesday. He was scratched from Saturday's game with a shoulder injury. A decision on him will likely come at Wednesday morning's skate.
Canadiens at Penguins Betting Story Lines
Montreal is struggling at the wrong time, having lost two straight and three of four as it battles Boston for the Northeast Division lead. The team has to be concerned about goalie Carey Price. He allowed three goals on four shots and was pulled in Saturday's 5-1 loss in Toronto. He was worse in Monday's 7-3 home loss to Philadelphia, yanked at the end of the second period after allowing six goals on 29 shots. It marked the first time in Price's 305-game NHL career that he’s been relieved in straight games.
The Habs haven't lost three straight all season. I'm not at all surprised the team has decided to start backup Peter Budaj in this one, and he actually has a better GAA and save percentage this year than Price. Budaj is 7-1-1 with a 2.19 GAA and.915 save percentage and has won his past two starts, allowing a total of two goals. Habs defenseman P.K. Subban is playing well with eight points in the past six games. He leads the NHL with 24 power-play points. Montreal's defense does miss Raphael Diaz. He practiced Monday for the first time since he suffered a concussion back on Feb. 25. Diaz isn't expected to play in this one, however.
The Penguins lost their first two games without Crosby, ending their 15-game winning streak, but they have since won four straight. Brenden Morrow has been very good since coming over in a trade from Dallas. He has three goals and three assists in nine games and scored twice in Saturday's 3-1 win at Florida. Jarome Iginla has a goal and three assists since he was acquired from Calgary.
This is the final meeting of the regular season. Pittsburgh beat the Habs 7-6 in overtime on Montreal on March 2 in one of the best games all year. It was Canadiens coach Michel Therrien's first game against the Pens since the team fired him in 2009 and went on to win the Cup under in-season replacement Dan Bylsma. Crosby had a goal and two assists the first meeting. The Pens started backup goalie Tomas Vokoun over Marc-Andre Fleury. On March 26 in Pittsburgh, the Penguins won, 1-0. That was the team's 13th straight victory at the time. Crosby scored the lone goal. Fleury stopped all 22 shots he faced but sat out the third period following a collision in front of his net. Vokoun made 15 third-period saves to give Pittsburgh the fourth combined shutout in franchise history.
Canadiens at Penguins NHL Betting Odds and Key Trends
At BetOnline, the Penguins opened at -131 and Montreal at +119 with the total at 5.5. The Canadiens are 22-20 “over/under” (14-6 on road) and have won their past two as a dog (both against Boston). The Penguins are 20-21-1 O/U (8-13 at home) and have won eight of their past nine as a favorite.
Montreal is 7-1 in its past eight after allowing five goals or more in its previous game. The Penguins are 6-1 in their past seven playing on at least three days of rest. The over is 4-0 in Montreal's past four road games and also in their past four overall following a loss by at least three goals. The under is 10-1 in Pittsburgh's past 11 home games. The Penguins are 5-1 in the past six meetings. The under is 4-1 in the past five in Pittsburgh.
Canadiens at Penguins Picks and Betting Predictions
Pittsburgh is an excellent 16-5-0 at home, but the Habs are an equally good 13-5-2 on the road. This game probably means more to Montreal to get those ugly back-to-back losses out of its system. Budaj has been good, and I don't think Malkin will play, so I lean toward the Habs and the under.
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