Game preview #2: Canadiens-Penguins
(Pittsburgh leads best-of-seven series, 1-0)
Big story -- Montreal has had little time to recover from the full-scale blitz Pittsburgh brought to play in Game 1, a 6-3 victory for the defending champions at Mellon Arena. Game 2, a matinee affair, comes a little more than 36 hours after the horn sounded on Friday’s game. The Canadiens need to figure out how to negate Pittsburgh's power play, which scored four times on as many attempts after Montreal killed 32 of 33 man-short situations against Washington in the previous round.
Canadiens -- Montreal has a lot of answers to find if it hopes to be more competitive in Game 2.
First, the Habs must figure out how to move forward after the loss of defenseman Andrei Markov, who was injured in the first period of Game 1 after a hard and heavy hit by Matt Cooke. He had been playing more than 26 minutes a game for Montreal.
"Obviously being without him for any extended period of time is going to be tough," Brian Gionta said.
Second, they must hope that Jaroslav Halak rediscovers the game that made him the star of the first round. Friday night, Halak allowed 5 goals on 18 shots before he was pulled in the third period. But remember, Halak was pulled in Game 3 against Washington and did not play in Game 4. Returning in Game 5, Halak then proceeded to stop 131 of 134 shots in his next three starts against the Capitals.
Finally, they must find a way to counter Pittsburgh's dangerous power play, which scored four goals in Game 1 -- on just four opportunities.
"They are obviously pretty good and gave us some problems last night that we need to correct," Gionta said. "The biggest thing, obviously, is to stay out of the box. You don't want to give them many opportunities. When it comes down to it, special teams is always a big part of playoffs -- and it will be a big part of this series."
Penguins -- Pittsburgh will begin life without Jordan Staal, who was injured in Game 1 when a tendon at the top of his right foot was cut in a freak collision with Montreal's PK Subban.
The absence of Staal, who has not missed a game through injury in his four-year career and has played in 327 of 328 regular-season games, creates a number of problems for the Penguins, who count on him to center the checking line, chip in on the power play and take key faceoffs.
Maxime Talbot will likely take Staal's place between Cooke and Pascal Dupuis, but everyone will have to chip in a bit, including the top two lines, which normally concentrate on offense.
"Sidney Crosby's line will see probably a little bit more time against the other team's top lines," coach Dan Bylsma said. "So, it will change our matchups a little bit; but it won't drastically change guys' roles on our team."
Crosby could even see some time on the penalty kill as Pittsburgh moves forward without Staal.
The Penguin captain is OK with that assignment -- or any other one that comes in the absence of Staal.
"If anything, as a group, we want to make sure defensively that we are responsible," Crosby said. "He's a guy that we always look to as a real two-way guy and a guy that is tough to play against for other teams. I don't think anybody's role changes, but I think collectively, as a group, we want to make sure that doesn't hurt us."
Who's hot -- Nobody is hotter than Crosby, who leads the League with 16 points in these playoffs. Friday night, Crosby assisted on two of Pittsburgh's four power-play goals and now has a League-best 11 postseason assists. Kris Letang had a power-play goal and an assist Friday night and the young defenseman already has 3 goals in seven playoff games. … For Montreal, Michael Cammalleri has been dangerous throughout. He has scored in seven of Montreal’s eight playoff games and now has 6 goals and a team-best 11 points.
Injury report -- Each team lost a key cog in Game 1. For Pittsburgh it was Staal, who had to undergone surgery to replace a sliced tendon suffered Friday night. Bylsma refused to rule out a return by Staal, but it seems unlikely that it would this round. For Montreal, the injury came to Markov who is back home in Montreal for treatment and is "out indefinitely." Markov had been averaging more than 26 minutes a game before his injury. Jaroslav Spacek, another Montreal defenseman, remains unavailable as he battles his way back from a virus. For Pittsburgh, both Tyler Kennedy (leg) and Jordan Leopold (concussion) have been cleared to play, but it remains to be seen if they get in the lineup.
Stat pack -- Fourth-liner Craig Adams has also found the postseason to his liking. He went 82 regular-season games without scoring a goal, but scored Friday night, his second of the postseason. Last spring, he had three playoff goals. … After putting up a 4.02 goals-against average in two regular-season appearances against the Pens, Halak struggled again, allowing 5 goals on the first 18 shots he faced. … Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz had a game-high six hits in Game 1 as each team registered 30 hits in the game.
Puck drop -- Montreal knows it has to win this game to have a chance in this series. It may be too much to ask this team to navigate another stunning comeback. Pittsburgh knows that if it can get to Montreal for Tuesday's Game 3 with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, it will clearly be in the driver’s seat. So the Penguins refuse to be complacent after a dominating 6-3 performance in Game 1. Pittsburgh especially wants to generate more shots than the 24 it managed in Game 1.
"I think we want to get more shots," Crosby said. "There's no doubt when you put pucks on net, you wear the other team down. You get chances and eventually that helps. I think that is important."
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