MONTREAL - Sidney Crosby may have grown up loving the Canadiens, but he sure has a funny way of showing it, as he once again was the difference in a 6-4 Penguins' victory over his favorite childhood team Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.
Crosby stole the show with a pair of goals to lead Pittsburgh (11-19-9), after having also burned the Canadiens (18-14-6) when he scored the shootout winner in a 3-2 win over Montreal back on Nov. 10.
"To come in here, pick up the win and score a couple of goals obviously makes this a pretty special night. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't have been even better if I would've hit that empty net in the last minute," said Crosby, who now has 21 goals on the season after coming within inches of bagging his first career NHL hat trick. "It feels like only yesterday I was sitting here watching my first NHL game."
The 18-year-old phenom wasted little time introducing himself to the crowd when he opened the scoring on his first shot of the night less then five minutes into the game before notching the game-winner early in the third.
"Playing my first game here in Montreal means a lot to my entire family who are all diehard Canadiens fans just like me," added Crosby, who used the opportunity to flash some of the French he picked up during his time with the QMJHL's Rimouski Oceanic for the local media throng that surrounded him after the game. "I also can't say enough about the fans here tonight. When I heard them cheering when they announced my name in the starting lineup, I couldn't believe it."
The Penguins appeared to have the game well in hand as they jumped out to a 3-0 first period cushion, but the Canadiens roared back with four straight goals of their own to take a 4-3 lead.
Jan Bulis got the Canadiens on the board with his seventh goal of the season with only 20 seconds left in the opening frame. Then, just over two minutes into the second period Steve Begin - who missed Saturday's game in Carolina with a shoulder injury - muscled a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury for his ninth of the year. Sheldon Souray tied the game just over three minutes later with his third of the campaign. In his NHL debut, rookie Jonathan Ferland became the fifth Canadiens rookie to notch his first NHL career goal this season when he put Montreal ahead 4-3 at the 6:43 mark of the second.
The 22-year-old Ste-Marie-de-Beauce native also became the second Canadiens rookie to score his first NHL goal in his first game in 2005-06 after Alexander Perezhogin turned the trick against the Rangers on Oct. 6 at Madison Square Garden.
"Sure it would have been even better had we won the game, but it was still an awesome feeling," said Ferland, who was drafted in the seventh round, 212th overall by the Canadiens in 2002. "Any kid who is from Quebec dreams of one day playing for the Canadiens. And then to score a goal in my first game is just unbelievable."
But it wasn't meant to be on this night, as Pittsburgh responded with three unanswered goals to close out the game. All six of the Penguins' goals came from rookies, including Crosby (2), Michel Ouellet (2), Shane Endicott, and Maxime Talbot.
The Penguins outshot the Canadiens 36-33 with Jose Theodore making 30 saves and Fleury turning aside 29 shots in his Bell Centre debut.
The game was followed by a 20-minute closed door team meeting which Claude Julien hopes will help the Canadiens snap themselves out of their recent funk that has seen the club win only two of its last nine games.
"It was a chance for all of us, players and coaches, to clear the air," said Julien. "The type of effort we saw tonight is unacceptable. Our fans deserve better. Enough is enough. We need to start playing as a team again if we want to turn this thing around and enjoy the type of success we did early in the season."
But in the end it was all about Crosby, who has looked right at home since being named assistant captain by new head coach Michel Therrien.
"It was something I talked about with Craig Patrick and Mario Lemieux and they also liked the idea," said Therrien, who picked up the victory in his first game back in Montreal since being replaced by Julien on Jan. 17, 2003. "We just know that he can not only handle the extra responsibility, but also grow from the experience.
"I don't think it has put any extra pressure on him and besides, if anything, he has raised his level of play since being named an assistant captain," assured Therrien, who has seen Crosby put up 14 points in eight games since he took over behind the bench. "He's a quiet kid but he's still a leader. Sidney is a player who leads by example and that's another form of leadership. You look at a former captain right here in Montreal like Bob Gainey who wasn't known for being vocal but was still a great leader."
Next up for the Canadiens is a date with the Devils in New Jersey on Thursday before welcoming the Senators in a matinee at the Bell Centre on Saturday.
NOTES: Tuesday night's matchup with the Penguins drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 19th consecutive sellout of the season and 42nd straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04... D Andrei Markov was awarded the Molson Cup for the month of December just before game time... The Canadiens were without Tomas Plekanec (knee) who missed his seventh straight game as well as D Mark Streit, LW Pierre Dagenais and Mike Ribeiro who were healthy scratches... C Radek Bonk picked up an assist in his return to the lineup after missing 11 games with a groin tear... The win was the Penguins first at the Bell Centre since the 1998-99 season... Mario Lemieux missed his seventh straight game with a heart problem...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com