Veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar scored his first goal since missing the first 56 games of the season due to a shoulder injury, breaking a tie 7:18 into the third period, and the Penguins edged the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 at Mellon Arena on Thursday night, inching closer to the top eight in the Eastern Conference.
Gonchar scored on a slap shot from the top of the slot just 47 seconds after the Canadiens had rallied from a two-goal deficit to draw even. The win left the Penguins four points out of a playoff spot and gave Bylsma a 1-0-1 record since taking over from Michel Therrien. His first game was a shootout loss against the Islanders on Monday.
In his home debut, Bylsma wanted to see his team come out with an aggressive, entertaining style of play, and for the most part the Penguins delivered.
"I told the players before the game, how we play is going to send a message to the fans and to the Canadiens in tonight's game," he said. "Still a lot of things I think we can improve on and areas we've got to iron out, but again, when you play that way, I think an aggressive style … you tip the scales in your favor. And I think with the way we played, we were confident we were going to get a positive result."
Petr Sykora, Miroslav Satan, Evgeni Malkin and Maxime Talbot also scored for the Penguins, who may have received the necessary wake-up call on Sunday, when Therrien was dismissed less than nine months after leading them to the Stanley Cup Final last spring against Detroit.
"I don't want to say we were dogging it before the coaching change," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Maybe it's a lack of confidence, really. I think if you look tonight, guys were playing with a lot of confidence. You're not playing not to make mistakes, which is the biggest thing. I think when you play that way you're setting yourself up for failure."
Meanwhile, the Canadiens' miseries continued. Tomas Plekanec had a pair of goals while recent acquisition Mathieu Schneider and Andrei Kostitsyn also scored, but Montreal lost its second in as many nights and has dropped 12 of its last 15 games.
"We need to start tightening things up, and realize from here on out it's not going to get any easier," said Montreal's Josh Gorges, who broke his stick seconds before Gonchar scored. "We need to stop this from here on out. We've waited too long already."
The teams entered the third in a 2-2 deadlock and immediately started filling the nets. Malkin struck just 29 seconds into the period, and Talbot put Pittsburgh ahead by a pair when he beat Carey Price at the 3-minute mark.
But as they had on two occasions already, the Habs came back. It took only 13 seconds for Kostitsyn to answer Talbot's goal with one of his own, then Plekanec got his second of the night at 6:31.
"When we play a real, real good game, you'll see extended periods in the offensive zone, you won't see so much up-and-down hockey," Bylsma said. "It's not run-and-gun hockey we're looking to play. We're looking to play offensive zone time and repeatedly get shift after shift after shift where we can hem them in and gain the momentum that way."
It all worked out, though, after Gonchar took a feed from Ruslan Fedotenko, who then set up a screen in front on Price. Gonchar scored his first regular-season goal since April 2, and the Penguins finally made a lead stand up. Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 23 saves.
Sykora's goal 10:27 into the first period put the Penguins in front and was the only offense to speak of until Plekanec got the Canadiens on the board at 6:22 of the second. Satan broke out of a seven-game drought by redirecting Ryan Whitney's shot 1:03 later, but Schneider capitalized on a brief 5-on-3 advantage with 4:56 remaining. It was his fifth of the season and first since Montreal acquired him from Atlanta on Monday for a pair of draft picks.
"It was not really deflating -- yes, they were coming back but ... I don't think guys were worried, guys were still confident and nobody really had their head down going, 'Here we go again,'" Talbot said. "Guys were ready to go again, we played with passion and desperation and got a big two points."
Price also had 23 saves, but fell to 2-8-1 since returning from an undisclosed injury that kept him out of several games shortly before the All-Star break. He had been on a 7-0-2 streak before the injury. Price returned in time to start the All-Star Game in Montreal, but neither he nor his team has been the same since then.
Material from wire services and team broadcast media was used in this report.