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Habs expect to have hands full with Penguins

by Arpon Basu
BROSSARD, Que. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins return to Montreal on Thursday night for the first time since losing Game 6 of last season's Eastern Conference semifinal to the Canadiens, a series the Penguins went on to lose in seven games.

But the Canadiens have no illusions that they will get any benefit from that playoff history when they face a Penguins team that thumped the Tampa Bay Lightning 8-1 at home on Wednesday.

"We're facing one of the best teams in the League -- they have a lot of firepower with (Sidney) Crosby, (Evgeni) Malkin, (Jordan) Staal, who's back now, and (Kris) Letang," Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said Thursday morning after a brief skate at the team's suburban practice facility. "It's up to us to shut them down and take away the middle of the ice."

That task will be made all the more difficult by the absence of No. 1 shutdown defenseman Roman Hamrlik, who is out with an undisclosed injury.

Hamrlik skated Thursday morning after taking two straight days off from practice, but Martin confirmed he will be out of the lineup Thursday night. He will join fellow defensive specialist Josh Gorges, missing a fifth game with a right knee injury, in the press box.

Hamrlik's absence not only makes the defensive task more difficult, it also forced a few changes on the Montreal power play.

Tomas Plekanec was manning Hamrlik's usual spot on the left point on one of the power play units Thursday morning, with recent AHL call-up David Desharnais filling Plekanec's usual spot between Michael Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn.

Desharnais had 20 assists on the power play alone in 35 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs this season.

"We want to take advantage of having a player like Desharnais," Martin said. "He's got great vision and he was a key player on the power play in Hamilton."

Rookie defenseman P.K. Subban will line up opposite Plekanec on the power play. Plekanec is playing the point for the first time in recent memory.

"He's a good player, so he can play any position on the ice," Subban said. "He's got a good shot, he's a good player, so wherever he plays he's going to make a difference."

Subban, meanwhile, was the center of attention Thursday as he arrived at his locker to find a Russian Olympic team hoodie and a Russian ball cap waiting for him, left there courtesy of injured defenseman Andrei Markov.

Subban, a two-time gold medalist at the World Junior Championship for Canada, made a friendly wager with his Russian teammate on Wednesday's final between the two countries.

The Russian comeback from a 3-0 deficit to win 5-3 meant Subban had to wear the gear in his interviews Thursday.

"We're facing one of the best teams in the League -- they have a lot of firepower with (Sidney) Crosby, (Evgeni) Malkin, (Jordan) Staal, who's back now, and (Kris) Letang. It's up to us to shut them down and take away the middle of the ice." -- Jacques Martin

"I never thought I'd put on a Russian hat and sweater like this," a smiling Subban said. "It was just a friendly bet yesterday. It was a tough one to watch, that's for sure."

The result of the game put Markov in a great mood, Subban said, and that alone made it worth it.

"I don't think I've ever seen him laugh and smile that much -- it was pretty cool to see, especially with the times he's been going through," Subban said of his teammate, who is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. "If it gives him some humor, I'll suck it up for a day."

Carey Price will be in goal for the Canadiens on Thursday night. The Penguins did not skate Thursday morning after arriving in town late Wednesday night, so their choice of goalie and lineup changes remain unknown.

Regular Penguins starter and native Quebecer Marc-Andre Fleury has a career mark of 9-7-1 with a 3.44 goals-against average and .886 save percentage against the Canadiens, and that's not counting last season's playoffs when Fleury had a 3-4 record with a 2.83 GAA and .892 save percentage in the seven-game loss to Montreal.

The possibility of seeing backup Brent Johnson in goal Thursday night certainly exists, especially since the Penguins are playing on back-to-back nights.
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