When the Penguins take on the Montreal Canadiens at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday night at the Bell Centre they will do so with a small chip on their shoulder. Correction – make that a large chip on their shoulder. The team was not happy with their performance in Monday’s 3-2 setback to the Carolina Hurricanes, and they look to take their disappointment out on a Montreal squad they have had great success against in 2009-10.
“Sometimes you are going to play well and lose games,” Sidney Crosby
said. “Other times you are not going to be happy with your play. I think (the Carolina) game fit into that category.
“We weren’t happy with the way we played, especially in the first period. We will be looking to bounce back here in Montreal.”
Defenseman Brooks Orpik
agreed with his captain. He spoke about how the Penguins were pleased with their body of work when the Chicago Blackhawks came to town on Saturday night despite Chicago’s 2-1 overtime victory.
As a team the Penguins viewed that Chicago contest more as Blackhawks netminder Antti Niemi stealing two points for the Hawks with a 32-save performance than the Penguins not giving a good effort. The Carolina game, on the other hand, was a different story.
“With (head coach) Dan (Bylsma) it’s not really about wins and losses,” Orpik said. “He is more concerned about the way we are playing. If we play the way we did against Chicago (on Saturday) then at the end of the day we will have a lot more wins than losses.
“It is just consistency. If we play the same way every night we have a talented enough team here that we are going to win a lot of hockey games.”
Based upon the results in two previous meeting with the Canadiens at Mellon Arena, the Penguins might have found the perfect ingredient for their recipe to return to the win column. In posting a 6-1 victory on Oct. 28 and a 3-1 win on Nov. 25, the Penguins jumped out to 4-0 and 3-0 leads on Montreal, respectively.Matt Cooke
says that the Penguins have not tried to do anything different against the Canadiens than they would any other opponent, but rather establishing their own game in the offensive end of the rink has allowed the Penguins to dominate both puck possession and shots on goal.
“I think we have made the commitment to play in the offensive zone,” Cooke said. “When you do that you are giving yourself a good chance to get scoring opportunities.
“There is nothing that jumps out at you (as to why the Penguins have carried the play against Montreal). It is more what we are doing as opposed to what they do.”
From his birds-eye view in the opposite crease, Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury
believes he can offer up a brief summary as to why the Penguins have had so much success against Montreal – the total team effort put forth by all 19 skaters from the drop of the puck in the first period to the final horn at the conclusion of the third.
“I think we played two really good games when we played them,” Fleury said. “We played for 60 minutes. I think we need to have a good start (Thursday) but the most important thing is to keep it going for 60 minutes.”
Getting off to a good start against the Canadiens in their home building will not be as easy as the Penguins made it look at Mellon Arena for two reasons. First, Montreal is much stronger at home, where they use a raucous Bell Centre crowd to their advantage, and second, they are playing some of their best hockey of the season with three consecutive wins.
“They have a great crowd there,” Crosby said. “I’m sure they get momentum from that. I don’t think we are going to think about it a whole lot. We want to make sure we start well.”
While the crowd will play a huge part in spurring on the home team, the presence of four French Canadians on the Penguins’ roster – Fleury, Pascal Dupuis
, Kris Letang
and Max Talbot – helps give Pittsburgh added incentive as well.
“It is always fun for us to go back home and play in front of our friends and family,” Fleury said. “It is always special since I have watched (the Canadiens) since I was a little kid. They were always my favorite team growing up. It’s always a little weird to face them but it is also fun.”
One of the reasons the Canadiens are on a three-game roll is the way they try to get up on teams and then suck that fun Fleury talked about from right under their opponent. A huge factor in such a strategy is the always-important first goal. Montreal is 10-1 this season when they register the opening tally.
“The first goal is huge up there,” Orpik said. “They like to play a trapping system. They are similar to New Jersey in that if they get that first goal they can sit back and clog the neutral zone and play the way they want to play.
“If we get the first goal we can push them out of their element and change the way they play.”
“Obviously you want to score the first goal and relieve pressure from your goalie,” added Max Talbot. “I think the first goal is definitely important.”
If the Penguins are able to establish an early presence in the offensive zone, score the game’s opening goal and then complete their body of work with another 60-minute effort, a 0-1-1 conclusion to their recent three-game homestand will be all but a distant memory.
“I think we have that kind of character in the room,” Talbot said. “We have guys that can respond. I think this team has the character to bounce back against Montreal.”