PITTSBURGH – The only way to be the best is to beat the best.
Leaving the Consol Energy Center with two points is never an easy task, and recently it’s only gotten harder for opponents to escape Pittsburgh with a win. The second-place Habs will head into Tuesday’s tilt looking to hand the Penguins their first home loss since Feb. 20 and snap the Pens’ current 12-game win streak in the process.
That task is easier said than done. With two players in the Top 3 in league scoring in Crosby and Chris Kunitz, the Pens are leading the NHL in total goals scored (114) and goals-per game (3.46). They’ve also been taking care of business at the other end of the ice, having allowed two or fewer goals in their past eight games.
“They’ve got some of the best players in the world over there and obviously everyone has respect for them, but when you’re on the ice against them you’ve got to treat them like everyone else,” explained Max Pacioretty, who had a goal and an assist against the Penguins on March 2. “They’re the enemy tonight and we’ve got to be hard on them.”
The first and only time the Canadiens and Penguins played this season, the two teams traded highlight-reel goals at a pace generally reserved for All-Star Games. The Canadiens aren’t anticipating a repeat of that performance on Tuesday night.
“That was a wacky game and I think both teams erased that game disk from their hard drives,” joked Pacioretty of that 7-6 overtime loss to the Pens. “We’ve played pretty good defense all year with the exception of that game. When we play our team concept for 60 minutes, that’s when we have success. When we get away from it, a result like that happens.
“We’ve kind of looked past that game and haven’t really gone back to it,” he added. “We know we’ve got to play tight defensively and we can’t trade chances with these guys because they’re so strong offensively.”
After giving up a season-high seven goals the last time they faced the Penguins, the Canadiens’ usually-stingy defense corps will be looking to stifle Pittsburgh’s biggest offensive weapons this time around.
“We don’t want to play a run-and-gun game,” stressed Josh Gorges, who has a plus-5 differential so far this year. “That’s not our team, that’s not how we play and if we do try to play like that, we’re usually not successful.
“It goes back to focusing on what we do well: tight checking, in-your-face hockey, being first on the puck, being on the jump and all those little things. Hopefully it’s a lot lower scoring game than the last time we played these guys.”
About to face a loose Penguins squad on home ice, there’s nothing Pacioretty would like more than to see the No.1 team in the East start gripping their sticks a little tighter on Tuesday night.
“Obviously they have a lot of confidence right now; we have to find a way to take away that confidence,” he mentioned. “The only way to do that is to come out hard right from the start. We can’t give them early momentum because we know the way they are and they’ll jump right on it and score tons of goals. It’s important to jump on these guys the first couple shifts.”
Coming off a 2-1 loss to the Sabres on Saturday night – just their second regulation loss of the month – the Habs will be ready to start a new winning streak of their own when the puck drops at the Consol Energy Center.
“[Since that loss to Pittsburgh] we’ve dropped a couple games we wish we could take back, but that should be motivation tonight to come out hard,” shared Pacioretty. “Good teams don’t lose back-to-back games.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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