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Penguins return to action against Canadiens

by Mike Battaglino

CANADIENS (32-21-7) at PENGUINS (40-15-3)


Last 10: Montreal 5-3-2; Pittsburgh 6-3-1

Season series: The Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins have split two games this season, each winning at home. Montreal led 3-0 before winning 3-2 on Nov. 23. Pittsburgh took a 2-0 lead on the way to a 5-1 win Jan. 22.

Big story: Pittsburgh has a commanding lead in the Metropolitan Division but can use a tight race with the Boston Bruins for the top seed in the Eastern Conference as motivation.

"After a three-week break, we're not going to be perfect out there on the ice right away," Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi told the Tribune-Review. "But we've got [24] games to get our P's and Q's together and make sure we have the right mindset heading into the playoffs."

Montreal, after a 2-1 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday, trails Boston by eight points in the Atlantic Division.

Team Scope:

Canadiens: Goalie Peter Budaj, who has not played on back-to-back days since April 4-5, 2012, could be asked to do so filling in for Carey Price, who aggravated a lower-body injury in the morning skate Wednesday.

Budaj made 28 saves Wednesday in what was to be his start as Price rested after returning from the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Dustin Tokarski, who has not played in the NHL since March 19, 2012 for the Tampa Bay Lightning, was recalled to be the backup.

"I felt good out there," Budaj said. "Guys did a good job blocking shots and made some good saves. I felt pretty good."

The Canadiens had season-low two shots on goal in the second period.

"It's going to take some time, and the more we play, the faster that cohesion will come back," coach Michel Therrien told the Canadiens website. "The more games we play, the better our execution will get, so I'm happy we're flying out tonight and playing Pittsburgh right away."

Penguins: Pittsburgh returns to NHL action with two Olympic gold medalists, but minus two defensemen.

Paul Martin is out 4-6 weeks after breaking his hand playing for the United States. One day before the break, the Penguins announced defenseman Kris Letang had suffered a stroke and would be out indefinitely.

Olli Maatta, who saw his NHL ice time steadily increase heading into the Olympics, where he played well for Finland, could be called on for even more.

"There are always guys who step up," Maatta told the Post-Gazette. "If it comes to me, yeah, I'm ready for it. ... But we have a lot of good [defensemen] in this organization. It doesn't matter who's on the ice. You know they're going to do their job."

Coach Dan Bylsma told the newspaper that Deryk Engelland, who has played much of the season on the wing, would be used as a defenseman.

Forwards Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz each scored in Canada's 3-0 gold-medal victory against Sweden after not scoring in the tournament prior to that.

"Put that kind of behind us now," Kunitz told the Penguins website Wednesday. "[Now] it's just adjusting and getting back to our systems, relearning to be on the ice in certain areas where you can be responsible and they're going to expect you to be and play. Playing another system for two weeks, you forget about some of the things here. But hopefully running through the reps today and tomorrow, we're ready for the game.”

Who's hot: Price was named the top goaltender of the Olympics after going 5-0-0 with an 0.59 goals-against average, .972 save percentage and two shutouts. Defenseman Andrei Markov has an assist in three straight games and six in eight. … Penguins forwards Evgeni Malkin (three goals, four assists) and James Neal (three goals, three assists) each has a five-game point streak.

Injury report: Price is expected to be available to play Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Canadiens forwards Alex Galchenyuk (broken hand) and Travis Moen (lower body) returned Wednesday. Forwards Brandon Prust (upper body) and Michael Bournival (concussion) are day-to-day and did not play. Defenseman Davis Drewiske (shoulder surgery) is on injured reserve. … Penguins forwards Taylor Pyatt (lower body) and Joe Vitale (upper body) may return to play. Goalie Tomas Vokoun (hip) has returned to practice. Forward Beau Bennett (wrist) sustained a setback in his recovery and could be out another month. Forward Chris Conner (wrist) is out at least another week.

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