Mark Recchi said he realizes the Pittsburgh Penguins will face a difficult challenge when they play the Montreal Canadiens in the best-of-5 Eastern Conference Qualifying Round.
The Canadiens were 10 points out of a Stanley Cup Playoff position with three teams ahead of them when the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. The Return to Play Plan, announced May 26, ended the regular season and established a 24-team format to decide the Stanley Cup champion. Montreal's .500 points percentage (31-31-9) is the lowest of the 24 teams.
But Recchi, a Pittsburgh assistant coach, told Sportsnet on Monday he believes Montreal will be a tough opponent.
"To me they're a pain in the butt to play against," Recchi said. "They skate well, they're a fast team, they're very well-coached, they're very disciplined in how they play. When you have that, you're always a tough opponent. And obviously they've got Carey Price, who's been one of the top goalies in the world for a long stretch.
"They have some key veteran guys. Shea Weber is still a terrific defenseman and a good leader. You can tell how good of a leader he is and how that group there has kind of bought in. They're a tough team to play against. Our players know it, and mentally they have to be ready for that. We have to play a real smart, structured game as well."
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Pittsburgh (40-23-6) had the fifth-best points percentage in the Eastern Conference (.623; seventh in NHL) coached by Mike Sullivan. The top four teams in each conference will play a Seeding Round Robin to determine positions for the playoffs.
The Penguins reached 40 wins despite injuries to several key players, including forwards Sidney Crosby (28 games missed), Evgeni Malkin (14) and Patric Hornqvist (17).
"They were back to that team that won championships in '16 and '17, next guy up," Recchi said. "Every team goes through injuries, and we were like no other team. We had guys, big names, who were out for a long, extended periods of time. And we just found a way. The guys really bought into the team concept of playing the right way and playing fast and playing the way we need to play as a team.
"The team that's going to be mentally ready and mentally sharp, and the strongest through this, is going to have a real good chance."
Penguins forward Jake Guentzel has not played since injuring his shoulder Dec. 30; he had surgery the following day and was expected to be need 4-6 months to recover. Guentzel, who scored 40 goals in 2018-19 and scored 20 in 39 games this season, is expected to be ready to play against the Canadiens.
"He's a competitive, competitive player, another one who's hockey IQ is off the charts, and his compete level is off the charts," Recchi said of Guentzel. "He's going to be an important piece for us. He has been for a few years now. It sure adds to depth.
"We added [forward Jason] Zucker (in a trade with the Minnesota Wild), and he was a great addition, played terrific for us. Now it just gives us those options where we can play guys with different lines. It makes for more of a balanced lineup and a tougher lineup to play against."