All at once, Montreal presents a potentially dangerous situation along with a chance for the Penguins to change their recent struggles.
Pittsburgh Penguins (20-10-1, 41 pts.) at Montreal Canadiens (15-14-2, 32 pts.)
No team in the National Hockey League is better than the Canadiens at protecting an early lead — they are 10-1-0 when scoring the first goal this year.
That could spell tragedy for a Pittsburgh team that has fallen down 1-0 in the last six games and in seven of the last eight. However, knowing Montreal’s success when scoring first could serve the Penguins with the motivation needed to play a strong first period and earn an early lead of their own.
“They have a great crowd there so I’m sure they get momentum from that,” Sidney Crosby said when asked about why it has been so hard to come back on the Canadiens this year. “I don’t think we’re going to think about it a whole lot. We wanna make sure that we start well. Sometimes you can have a great first period and be down 1-0. We’ll look for our play to be where it needs to be and usually, if that’s the case, we’ll come out with the lead.”
Winning will go through a Canadiens team that has won its last three games, allowing just three total goals.
Both Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak have been outstanding in goal lately. Price won the first two games of Montreal’s current win streak, allowing just one goal a game and stopping 51 of the 53 shots he faced.
Price sat Tuesday in the Canadiens second game in as many nights and Halak impressed, stopping 45 of 46 shots in a 4-1 win over Ottawa.
Price will likely get the start tonight, but the fact that two red-hot goalies will match up against Pittsburgh doesn’t help the Penguins’ case. They have been held to one goal in each of the last two games by two backup goaltenders — Manny Legace for Carolina (30 saves) and Antti Niemi for Chicago (32 saves).
Getting pucks past Price, or Halak for that matter, will be a concern for the Penguins regardless of the time of game. First period or third, Max Talbot said he’s more concerned with the effort Pittsburgh shows.
Typically, he said, that gives a better gauge on whether the Penguins will win or lose — not what the scoreboard reads after one period.
“The style of game we play is we’re trying to tire the team out, so in the third period we have the advantage,” Talbot said. “But it should definitely start from the first minute.”
Montreal has been dangerous on the scoring end as well over the last three games. The Canadiens have averaged four goals a game in the past three wins and received solid scoring from some of their top offensive producers.
Mike Cammalleri (27 points), Andrei Kostitsyn (14) and Marc-Andre Bergeron (13) have scored goals in each of the last two games. That provides Montreal with and even better chance to score the ever-important opening goal.
After Pittsburgh held a closed-door meeting following Monday’s 3-2 loss to Carolina, the players and coaches preached focus and they appear optimistic that things will change quickly.
“You wanna relieve pressure from you goalie and try to just attack a little bit more,” Talbot said. “But I don’t really believe in those stats. It’s like (the) playoffs. The statistics — it’s not something you wanna read too much in to. The first goal is definitely important.”
- Dan Bylsma said the Carolina game was a perfect example of the team having focus problems. They prepared for the Hurricanes quick rush but he said they weren’t mentally prepared to stopping it at the beginning of the game.
- Talbot’s reasoning for holding a closed-door meeting: “I don’t think it was so much the effort. I think the effort was there. The first period was tough for us. I felt like our heads were maybe not in the right place — we were unfocused maybe. I think we battled back — it was not a question of effort. But we need to focus right from the start of the game. We need to be focused to play well.”
Chris | PPT