MONTREAL – Designing a game plan to stifle the offensive prowess and limitless creativity of Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby has been far from an easy task for Eastern Conference teams thus far this season.
For the Canadiens, who have yet to tangle with the Penguins during the 2012-13 campaign, the prospect of squaring off against Crosby at the Bell Centre on Saturday night doesn’t have them modifying their plan of attack to counteract the efforts of a single Pittsburgh player – no matter his nine goals and 31 points on the year.
“We always make a whole game plan,” said head coach Michel Therrien, who spent 272 regular season games behind the Penguins bench from 2005-06 to 2008-09. “That’s how we feel comfortable playing. Honestly, there’s not a special game plan for Sidney Crosby. The Penguins are a very good team.”
Defenseman Josh Gorges noted, however, that the Canadiens have a healthy respect for the Penguins captain, who will be making his first appearance in Montreal since November 26, 2011.
“He’s the best player in the world. He forces you to elevate your game a notch,” said the nine-year NHL veteran, explaining that Crosby and the Penguins always present the opposition with a hefty challenge. “If you don’t do that, [Crosby] is too good; he’ll make you look bad. When you play against Pittsburgh, you know it will be a hard battle. You have to be at your best and you have to be in [Crosby]'s face.”
Looking to pick up at least a point in a 10th consecutive game before embarking on a five-game road trip, the Canadiens go up against a Penguins squad that has dropped its last two games and is without concussed forward Evgeni Malkin.
While Malkin may be out of the lineup, the Penguins still arrived in Montreal with a bevy of offensive weapons in their arsenal, including Chris Kunitz, James Neal and Brandon Sutter, who are more than capable of picking up the slack in the Russian sniper’s absence.
For the contest, Gorges noted that Therrien’s Penguins pedigree will help in the Habs' pre-game preparations leading up to puck drop.
“We’ll definitely talk about it before the game in our meeting,” said Gorges. “I’m sure he has some inside information on some of the players’ tendencies and certain techniques we can use that can work against them. It’s good to know that he has that type of information.”
Coaching duties aside, Saturday night’s contest will be an emotional occasion for the Habs bench boss, who openly admitted that he very much enjoyed his time with the Penguins organization, leading Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup Finals against Detroit in 2007-08.
“It will be a special game. I’m no different than any player,” said Therrien. “It will be a special game for Colby [Armstrong], too. It was the same way when I was in Pittsburgh. It was always special to play against Montreal.”
Armstrong, who grew up in the Penguins organization as a draftee in 2001 and played for Therrien during his tenure in Pittsburgh, mentioned the Habs head coach was a perfect fit in the Steel City during the mid-to-late 2000s, where he mentored many of the players Montreal will square off against on Saturday night.
“He came in with a team in Pittsburgh and turned that group around,” said Armstrong. “We had a pretty good group of young players. He got them to buy in and play a certain style. He's pretty good at doing that. He did that with a lot of good players. He gets the most out of his guys.”
The Lloydminster, SK native, who played parts of three seasons with the Penguins, noted that his comfort level with Therrien has also made his transition to Montreal all that much easier.
“It feels great to have been adopted here,” explained Armstrong. “Obviously, I’m comfortable with Michel. I've had him for a long time and I know what he expects.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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