Game preview: MTL @ PIT
CANADIENS (27-17-5) @ PENGUINS (34-13-2)
On Wednesday night, a new-look Habs team will try to stop the Penguins in their tracks at the Consol Energy Center.
Last Saturday night, the Canadiens dropped a 5-3 decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs. James van Riemsdyk scored the go-ahead goal with a little over five minutes left in the third and Joffrey Lupul added an empty-net tally with seconds left in the marquee match-up. Brendan Gallagher, David Desharnais and Brian Gionta scored for the Habs, who nevertheless drove play at even strength and outshot Toronto 33-29 in the loss.
On Monday night, the Penguins saw their six-game streak without a regulation loss snapped by the upstart Florida Panthers. The visiting team upset the Eastern Conference leaders going away by a score of 5-1 thanks to multi-point games from Drew Shore, Jesse Winchester and Jonathan Huberdeau. Scott Clemmensen shut down the Pittsburgh offense, only allowing one goal on 36 shots. Meanwhile, Marc-Andre Fleury conceded five markers while facing only 28 shots. Matt Niskanen was the lone scorer for the NHL’s fifth leading offensive team.
With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin setting up Chris Kunitz and James Neal, respectively, the Penguins possess one of the league’s best one-two combinations on their roster of elite forwards. Enabling these players’ point-per-game offensive pace is a world-class defense corps anchored by puck-movers Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Matt Niskanen and Olli Maata, along with shutdown specialists Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi. With all the help up front, Fleury has plenty of margins for error. Still, he has been playing well most of this season, compiling a 2.33 goals-against average and an above-average .915 save percentage.
For all of their success, injuries have been a thorn in the Penguins’ side. The team currently has seven players on injured reserve, including winger Pascal Dupuis, who is out for the season with a knee injury, and Tomas Vokoun, who is still out after suffering a blood clot in his hip during the offseason. As for the Habs, they will play without Alex Galchenyuk and Ryan White. Both remained sidelined with upper-body injuries.
Head coach Michel Therrien made several line-up changes after seeing his team win only five of its past ten games. Louis Leblanc and Nathan Beaulieu, who were called up from Hamilton on Sunday, will take on the Penguins. In addition, P.K. Subban will renew his successful partnership with Andrei Markov. Carey Price will be in net in Pittsburgh, while Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz will be scratches.
Wednesday’s game will be the second of three regular season meetings between the two teams. On Nov. 23, 2013, Max Pacioretty scored two goals, helping his team to a 3-2 triumph at the Bell Centre.