BROSSARD – The Penguins aren’t tearing up the NHL these days, but Michel Therrien’s troops know they’ll have their collective hands full on Saturday night.
Even though Mike Sullivan’s squad isn’t rattling off wins on a regular basis, they still boast some of the most dynamic players in the league – all of whom are capable of just about anything on offense game in and game out. Chief among them is captain Sidney Crosby, who despite struggling to start the 2015-16 campaign, has come on extra strong as of late with six goals and nine points in his last seven games.
Needless to say, keeping a close eye on the Penguins’ No. 87 is of primordial importance for the Canadiens in their bid to secure their second straight victory following Wednesday night’s 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils.
“You always pay attention to Sidney. He’s the best player in the world. He’s playing well. It was only a matter of time. You have to be aware of him on the ice. He’s the best player in the world. Our job is to make sure he doesn’t get any chances,” offered captain Max Pacioretty, who leads the CH with 17 goals and 33 points on the year. “You see the amount of attention he gets from other teams. They try to get under his skin and take shots at him. No other player in the league gets the attention that he gets. He’s so skilled, so strong and so fast. You have to take away his time and space.”
Having coached the two-time Hart Trophy and two-time Art Ross Trophy winner – in addition to some of his current teammates – during his time in Pittsburgh between 2006 and 2009, the Canadiens’ bench boss is especially aware of what Pittsburgh is capable of when their group is firing on all cylinders.
“Sidney can change the course of a game on just one shift, just like a lot of other players on the Penguins. [Evgeni] Maikin can change the course of a game, too. These are guys with exceptional talent. On the back end, [Kris] Letang has been doing really well since coming back. They’re a very dangerous team,” admitted Therrien, who will be deprived of defenseman Jeff Petry’s services on Saturday night due to a lower-body injury, and will feature Greg Pateryn in his place alongside Nathan Beaulieu. “We’re playing against an elite team in the NHL. You break down the roster and every line can score goals. They’ve got some world-class players. ”
It’s a challenge the Canadiens are certainly up for as they once again look to rattle off consecutive wins for the first time since stringing together a four-game winning streak between Nov. 20 and Nov. 27.
“It’s time for us to play the right way for a couple of games in a row now. It hasn’t been the case as of late. We played a good, strong game last game and we’ve got to build off that and play the right way against Pittsburgh,” stressed Pacioretty, whose squad has a 1-0-1 record against the Penguins this season, dropping their last matchup in Western Pennsylvania in a shootout back on Nov. 11. “They’re a team that’s desperate. They’ll do whatever it takes to win the game, especially in Montreal. We’ve got to put together a good game after a strong performance last game.”
Following Saturday night’s tilt, the Canadiens will enjoy some well-deserved time off. They won’t be back in action until next Thursday night against the Chicago Blackhawks at the Bell Centre, so there isn’t any reason not to give absolutely everything they’ve got come puck drop.
“Whenever I think about playing Pittsburgh, especially at home, I think about a lot of guys on that team who have a lot to prove when they come to Montreal. Whether they have family [in town] or they like playing in this building, we’ve got to take that away from them early and make sure we put them on their heels,” concluded Pacioretty, who has two goals and three points against Pittsburgh this season. “Looking forward, we know we can air out the tank and leave it all out there [against Pittsburgh]. We’ll have some days to recover and really get in the gym and take care of our bodies.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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Quality player, quality person
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