Game Preview: Canadiens at Penguins

The Pittsburgh  Penguins (5-4-0) host the surging Montreal Canadiens (5-2-2) toinght at Mellon Arena at 7PM.  Montreal has won their last 3-games including an impressive 7-4 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night, in which they outscored the Canes 5-1 in the first period.  Four of those first period goals came on the man-advantage.  The Habs scored a total of 5-power play goals in Friday’s game to match a franchise record for the 6th time, the most recent of which was in February 1975. 

In their last 3 wins, Montreal has outscored their opponents (Carolina, Boston, Buffalo) 17-7.  With last night’s performance, the Canadiens have the best power play unit in the NHL with 16 goals and a 32.7% effectiveness (16 for 49).  They have been successful by putting the goal on net and then searching for rebounds.  Tomas Plekanec, did just that last night and picked up 4-points all on the power-play (2G, 2A). “We did all the right things and it paid off,” he said after the game.  “There are no secrets to it,” said Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau, “We have guys that can move the puck and make plays. You can pass it around for two minutes, but you can’t score if you don’t shoot it. That’s all we did. Just by shooting the puck a lot, it opened other options.”  Canadiens Goaltender Cristobal Huet has gone 3-1-1 with a 1.97 goals-against average in his last 5 starts, and is 3-0-0 with a 1.46 GAA all-time against Pittsburgh.  It is unknown whether Huet or Rookie Carey Price will get the call tonight.  Price recorded his first career win in his NHL debut against the Penguins in their first meeting this year.  The Canadiens are 4-1-1 against the Penguins since March 26, 2006, and are 14-4-2 with a tie against them since the 2001-02 season.

The Penguins will have to adddress several issues they have had in their game if they expect to win against the Canadiens.  First, they must control the rebounds, either by smothering them in the goal mouth or clearing them via the defensive corps.  If they cannot do that, Montreal will capitalize on attacking the net and feeding on the rebounds.  Next, they have to play a very disciplined game.  Despite having a slight edge in their penalty kill effectiveness, the Penguins cannot spend time in the box against the league’s most potent power play and expect to come out on top.  Third, they need to take a page out of the Canadiens play book and shoot the puck, and then capitalize on the oppotunities that arise from that.  All too often, the Penguins can be found in the offensive zone moving the puck around looking for a play.  Sometimes, you just have to put the puck on the net and good things will happen.  It has worked well for the Canadiens of late, and the Penguins would be well advised to pursue the same strategy. 

Going head-to-head, the Canadiens have the advantage.  They have averaged 3.4 goals per game to Pittsbugh’s 2.9, while only giving up 2.6 goals per game to Pittsbugh’s 3.2.  As mentioned earlier, the Canadiens’ league leading power play is clicking at 32.7%, while the Penguins have a 21.2% effectiveness on the man-advantage.  The Penguins have scored at least one power play goal in each of its 9 games played.  The Penguins have the slight advantage on the Penalty Kill with an effectiveness of 92.9% to the Canadiens’ 81.7%.  Shots per game, both for an against, are pretty much equivalent for both teams.     

The Penguins, who haven’t lost two consecutive games this season, will be looking to rebound from their disappointing 5-2 loss to Toronto on Thursday.  Sidney Crosby has accumulated 12 points (3G, 9A) in an 8-game point streak.  He picked up a point (1A) in the loss to the Canadiens earlier this month, and has recorded 15 points (5G, 10A) in 9-career games against the Canadiens.  Evgeni Malkin, who played on Crosby’s line for the first time on Thursday, has 7 points (2G, 5A) in 5 career games against the Canadiens.  After posting his first season shutout and giving up just 1-goal in 67 shots, Marc-Andre Fleury only made 22 saves on 27 shots against the Leafs.  Fleury made 32 saves in the loss to Montreal earlier this month, and is 4-3-1 with a 4.10 GAA all-time against the Canadiens.  It is unknown yet whether he will start in net, or whether Sabourin will get the call.  This morning, the Penguins announced the recall of center Tyler Kennedy.  Although not stated, I suspect that he may play in lieu of Maxime Talbot who went hard into the boards face-first in the game against the Leafs on Thursday and did not return to the line-up.  Although this may not be the case, as Talbot participated in Friday’s grueling team practice and appeared to have no ill after-effects.  It would be nice to see a line change for once in which Mark Recchi moved off from the top line. Prediction:  Unfortunately, based on the numbers, I believe that the Penguins will post their first consecutive loss tonight.  To have a chance, the Penguins will need to bring their “A” game, stay out of the penalty box, prevent/clear the rebounds,  and put up a much better offensive game than they have of late if they have any hope of getting a point out of tonight’s matchup.  I think the Canadiens have too much momentum on their side, and even though they played last night, will have the jump on the Penguins.  I am predicting a Canadiens win by a score of 3-2 in regulation.  Most likely goal scorers for the Penguins include Petr Sykora and Ryan Whitney.  Crosby will keep his point streak alive with an assist.  Here is to hoping that I am wrong, and that the Penguins pick up the win. 

Go Pens Go!

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