Canadiens aim to slow down Crosby and Penguins
By David Kalan
PENGUINS (20-10-1) at CANADIENS (15-14-2)
Last 10 --
Pittsburgh 6-3-1; Montreal 5-3-2.
Season series --
The Pens have won the two meetings this season, both at Mellon Arena. Sidney Crosby had a hat trick in 6-1 win on Oct. 28, and the Penguins won 3-1 on Nov. 25.
Big story --
After two tough losses, the defending Champs will head to Quebec intent on snapping the Habs' three-game winning streak.
The Pens finished November on a roll with seven wins in their last nine games, but December has not been so kind. Pittsburgh has lost two straight, including a tough overtime loss to Chicago on Saturday night, and a frustrating 3-2 defeat to the last-place Hurricanes two nights later. In a brief one-game trip north of the border, the Pens will look to get back on track against the streaking Habs, but the trip has already been unexpectedly hectic. Because of the snowstorm that rolled through Quebec this week, the Penguins rescheduled their flight multiple times in order to avoid delays.
The Pens will bring some good news with them, however. While neither is a definite to play Thursday, Chris Kunitz and Alex Goligoski both practiced Wednesday as they return from lower-body injuries. Without the hard-nosed Kunitz on the ice, Pittsburgh has still produced offensively. Evgeni Malkin has four points in his last three games, while Jordan Staal has 11 in his last 12. Defensively, however, Marc-Andre Fleury will appreciate the added help on the blue line. Despite solid performances, Fleury has lost two games in a row for the first time in nearly a month.
The last time Montreal faced off with the Penguins, they started a four-game losing streak. Since snapping the skid, however, the Habs have pulled together three straight wins, spurred on by a 5-1 pasting of the Bruins on Dec. 4, the date of the club's centennial. In their last outing, Montreal beat Ottawa 4-1, as Scott Gomez and Michael Cammalleri. Both have made a habit of getting on the board recently, as Gomez has 4 points in his last four games, and Cammalleri has 5 goals in his last three.
But the most impressive performance against Ottawa on Tuesday was that of backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who made 45 saves just five days after getting beaten for six goals by the Sabres. Still, despite Halak's strong rebound, don't expect Carey Price, the Canadiens' anticipated starter Thursday, to lose his job any time soon. Price has given up just one goal in each of his last two starts.
Who's hot --
While few can match the steady production of Sidney Crosby, whose 37 points are third in the League, he's been particularly potent of late, scoring 8 goals and adding 4 assists for 12 points in his last four games. In Montreal, Andrei Kostitsyn has quietly become a steady force with nine points in his last eight games.
Injury report --
Defensemen Paul Mara and Jaroslav Spacek are both listed as questionable for Montreal, while Pittsburgh may be without Goligoski, who is also questionable.
Stat pack --
While Crosby's 37 points are certainly an impressive total, it is actually the lowest point-per-game pace of his career so far. Of course, at his current pace, the youngest Hart Trophy winner in history will still finish with 101 points. He has 4 goals and 1 assist in Pittsburgh's two games against Montreal.
Puck drop --
After losing two straight, it isn't panic time yet for the Penguins, and likely wouldn't be for quite some time, but Pittsburgh is currently embroiled in a much tighter-than-expected race with New Jersey at the top of the Atlantic Division. Then Pens could certainly use a win, but they're coming up against a Montreal team that is playing well, and with the Habs currently fighting for the last spot in the East's top eight, they just might need it more.