PENGUINS (12-3-1) at CANADIENS (14-4-1)
TV: ROOT, RDS, SNE
MONTREAL -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta will return to the lineup against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday two weeks after undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous tumor.
Maatta had surgery Nov. 4 to remove the tumor from his thyroid gland. The 20-year-old Finn started skating again a week ago, but the original prognosis was for him to miss about four weeks.
"I didn't think it would be this quick," Maatta said. "I have to thank the doctors and the team staff for doing their best. I'm excited to be back."
Pittsburgh coach Mike Johnston confirmed Maatta's return following the morning skate at Bell Centre.
"He didn't feel he was sharp last week skating," Johnston said. "He probably could have even played a couple of days earlier, but he wanted to get his quickness down, wanted to get his puck movement down. He looked really good (Monday) in practice. We know he's ready to go right now. He's going to be a big boost for our team. He's a quality defenseman. He's a young guy, but he's added a lot to our team through the first part of the season."
Maatta, who was paired with Christian Ehrhoff on Tuesday, has a goal and five assists in 10 games.
"I feel normal," said Maatta, who missed six games. "I feel like I did two weeks ago, two months ago, a year ago."
He is looking forward to returning to the ice and grateful he is able to do so this soon.
"Obviously cancer is a pretty scary word," Maatta said. "But you can't really compare mine to other types of cancers because mine was found early and it was really easy to treat. As I said before, it was just another bump in the road for me. Now it's over with and I can focus on hockey again."
Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis did not make the trip after missing practice Monday because of an unspecified illness.
"He went to the doctor, he wasn't feeling well, as I mentioned (Monday)," Johnston said. "We should have an update soon."
Pittsburgh, which has won nine of 10, leads the Metropolitan Division with 25 points (12-3-1).
Montreal is on a six-game winning streak, its longest since March 2010, and leads the NHL with a 14-4-1 mark for 29 points.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has gone eight games without scoring a goal, though he has 11 assists during that span.
Canadiens defenseman Sergei Gonchar was Crosby's teammate when Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup in 2009. Gonchar said in defending against Crosby it is crucial to stay close to him and not let him pick up any speed.
"Obviously you have be aware of where he is on the ice," said Gonchar, who recorded his 800th NHL point Saturday. "He's very good at finding open spots, so I think you have to be on top of your game when you're facing guys like this."
Here are the projected lineups:
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Blake Comeau
Nick Spaling – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist
Beau Bennett – Brandon Sutter – Steve Downie
Zach Sill – Marcel Goc – Craig Adams
Paul Martin – Kris Letang
Olli Maatta - Christian Ehrhoff
Simon Despres - Rob Scuderi
Scratched: Robert Bortuzzo
Injured: Pascal Dupuis (unspecified)
Max Pacioretty – David Desharnais – Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau
Alex Galchenyuk – Tomas Plekanec – Brendan Gallagher
Brandon Prust – Lars Eller – Jiri Sekac
Manny Malhotra – Dale Weise
Andrei Markov – P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin – Mike Weaver
Sergei Gonchar – Tom Gilbert
Scratched: Drayson Bowman
Injured: Michael Bournival (shoulder)
Status report: With Maatta returning to the lineup, Bortuzzo will sit for the first time in six games. Comeau takes Dupuis' spot with Crosby and Kunitz. … Canadiens coach Michel Therrien will likely dress seven defensemen for a fourth straight game, though he said his lineup will be a game-time decision.
Who's hot: Fleury is 7-1-0 in his past eight starts with three shutouts, a 1.71 goals-against-average, and a .937 save percentage over that stretch. … Pacioretty has three goals and five assists over the course of a five-game points streak. Galchenyuk has four assists in his past two games. Subban has two goals and an assist, and Plekanec has a goal and two assists over the same stretch.