PITTSBURGH - With the Maple Leafs falling to the Dallas Stars on Thursday, the Canadiens are seeing a big opportunity to gain some ground on their rivals down the 401 as they get set to face the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.
Despite dropping two in a row, Montreal sits seven points back from Toronto for third in the Atlantic division, and Claude Julien reaffirmed that no one has thrown in the towel on a run at the postseason.
"No one's quitting, even if we've lost some games. We're not seeing a team that has given up. We're seeing a team that's working," asserted the head coach. "We have to be better than Pittsburgh if we want to win tonight."
The Canadiens should match up well against a Penguins team that plays wide-open style of hockey, and with the stakes as high as they are for Montreal, expect the intensity to be at its peak.
"It should be a game with lots of energy," prescribed Phillip Danault, who sits second in team scoring with 40 points (12G, 28A). "They open the play, but we can't fall into their trap. We have to play a good, well-structured game. It should be an exciting game."
Video: Phillip Danault on the game against the Penguins
With one power play goal in their past six games, the Canadiens are hoping for a better showing with the man advantage as they look to climb back into the playoff race.
For Ilya Kovalchuk, it's a matter of working together as a unit and trying not to do too much with the puck.
"It is momentum, probably, because we have all the tools but no toolbox. We're kind of not on the same page yet, but we will be. We just need to simplify everything and shoot the puck more, because we tried to make that extra pass and it wasn't bouncing not our way," shared the Russian sniper, who has 144 career power play goals. "So hopefully tonight we'll start just putting the puck on net, and good things will happen."
Video: Ilya Kovalchuk on facing Evgeni Malkin
The Habs will be making some changes on the power play, with both Jake Evans and Victor Mete getting a look. Julien explained that he's trying to make up for captain Shea Weber's absence on the unit in different ways with different assets.
"We're going to try Victor Mete [in place of Ben Chiarot]. He has good lateral movement," explained the coach. "Chiarot has a better shot than Mete, but Mete probably has better movement than Ben. You have to deal with your personnel and your players and try and find solutions, so that's what we're trying to do."
Video: Claude Julien's pregame press conference @ PIT
Asides from the adjustments on the power play, there was one change to Julien's line combinations. Nate Thompson was under the weather and skipped the morning skate, so Dale Weise moved up to the fourth line and Evans took Thompson's spot there at center. Julien said Thompson would be a game-time decision.
The coach also told reporters that Paul Byron did not receive the green light for game action. He remains day-to-day, but will not be in the lineup to face Pittsburgh.
The Canadiens-Penguins showdown gets underway at 7:00 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena.