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Pittsburgh vs. Montreal Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (19-12-4-42) vs. Montreal Canadiens (19-10-3-41)
Where: Mellon Arena
When: Saturday, December 27, 7:00 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: It will be the first meeting between the two clubs this season.
Note: The game will also be broadcast on CBC for Hockey Night in Canada.



Pens vs. Canadiens 2/21
Trib Media Minute - 12/27
Therrien - 12/27
Gill - 12/27
Crosby - 12/27
Bissonnette - 12/27
Back It Up: The Penguins haven't won back-to-back games since Nov. 13 - 15. Pittsburgh's task doesn't get much easier as it plays its fourth game in six days. The Penguins need to harness that complete performance against New Jersey from the previous night and sustain that effort. Pittsburgh is 3-2-0 on the second leg of back-to-back games this season.

: The Montreal Canadiens love to play a wide-open style. The Penguins will be tempted to play a little run-and-gun with the Habs. Pittsburgh needs to resist that temptation and remain defensively disciplined. The Penguins should take advantage of opportunities against the Canadiens but Montreal thrives off of counter attacks. If Pittsburgh gets caught pressing too much, it could get burned. 
The Montreal Canadiens are back. After a couple of down seasons, Montreal roared back last season with a 47-25-10 record for 104 points to finish tops in the Eastern Conference and claim the Northeast Division title. The Canadiens play a wide-open style and scored 262 goals last year, most in the NHL.

The Canadiens were fire starters at the beginning of their 100th season, losing only once in regulation in their first 11 games (8-1-2). Though they’ve cooled off since that torrid pace, head coach Guy Carbonneau’s club is still near the top of the league standings. They had their worst losing stretch (3 games) of the season this month but bounced back with a 2-0-1 mark heading into Pittsburgh.
The Canadiens biggest loss in free agency was the defection of offensively talented defenseman Mark Streit, the team’s third-leading scorer last season. Forwards Michael Ryder and Bryan Smolinski also left in free agency. General manager Bob Gainey sent Montreal’s first-round pick (25th overall) and a second-round selection in 2009 to the Calgary Flames for sniper Alex Tanguay. The Canadiens also picked up goaltender Marc Denis and forwards Robert Lang and tough-guy Georges Laraque.
Montreal’s offense hasn’t been as productive as last year, when it scored the most goals in the league. Through 33 games this campaign, the Canadiens are averaging 2.85 goals per game to rank 14th in the NHL. Alex Kovalev snapped a 19-game scoring slump with a goal in three straight games. He paces the Canadiens with 26 points (8G-18A). He’s currently skating with fellow Europeans Sergei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec. Kostitsyn, who replaced his injured older brother Andrei on the top line, has three goals and an assist in the past two games - though if Andrei returns against Pittsburgh he would reclaim his spot on the top line. Plekanec has improved every season since breaking into the NHL three seasons ago, setting career highs last year in goals (29), assists (40) and points (69).

Alex Tanguay has been the Habs most consistent player this year and tied Kovalev with 26 points (10G-16A) to top the team in scoring. He’s found good chemistry with Lang and rookie Matt D’Agostini. Lang looks rejuvenated with Montreal and is off to a great start with 25 points on a team-best 11 goals and 14 assists. D’Agostini has eight points in 11 games since being recalled from the AHL. Saku Koivu netted seven goals and 15 assists for 22 points this season but was recently sidelined with a foot/ankle injury and will not play against Pittsburgh.
The Canadiens have a veteran group on the blue line. They’ve been stingy this season, allowing the fifth-lowest goals per game (2.48). Andrei Markov is a top-tier defenseman in the NHL and is off to a great start this season with five goals and 21 assists for 26 points. He’s having his best season at the age of 30 and is the key fixture on the Habs’ back end. Mike Komisarek is maturing into a quality defensive defenseman and has developed a good rapport alongside Markov. At 6-foot-4, 242 pounds, the 26-year old is an imposing presence and has regularly defended opposing team’s top forwards.

Roman Hamrlik signed prior to last season and has been a valuable addition for Montreal. Josh Gorges seems to have found a home with the Canadiens. As his play improved, his ice increased and his plus-14 rating is the best mark on the team.Veteran Patrice Brisebois is playing in his 16th season with the Canadiens, and was with the Habs during their 1993 Stanley Cup season. Despite coming off of two injury-plagued seasons, Brisebois looks healthy at the tender age of 37. Francis Bouillon is a strong player with a low center of gravity. The New York City native packs 198 pounds onto his 5-foot-8 frame and isn’t afraid to get physical.
The rapid development of Carey Price is a bright spot for the Canadiens. The fifth-overall pick in the 2005 draft has matured faster than most people expected. He played so well last season that Montreal felt comfortable enough to trade Cristobal Huet and rode the 20-year-old Price into the postseason. Though he stumbled in the playoffs, the learning experience will only make him stronger this time around. As a rookie, Price recorded a 24-12-3 record with a 2.56 goals against average and .920 save percentage. Price has been just as impressive this season with a 13-4-5 mark, 2.39 GAA and .919 save percentage. He’s a big goaltender who plays a very sound technique.

Jaroslav Halak backed up Price following Huet’s deadline trade with less than 20 NHL games under his belt. Gainey decided to add some depth and a veteran backup for Price this season and acquired Montreal native Marc Denis. However, Halak earned a roster spot out of camp and Denis has become the team’s third option, and is currently in the AHL.
Penguins fans are well aware of the mesmerizing talent of Alex Kovalev from his five seasons in Pittsburgh. After a half-hearted season two years ago  - in which his production dipped to 18 goals and 47 points - Gainey sat down the Russian star for a discussion. Kovalev responded with his second-best career output with 35 goals and 84 points at the age of 34. He scored a career-high 17 power-play goals and was simply dominant during stretches. Kovalev still has a monster shot and can skate in circles around the opposition. Though he seems to disappear for periods this season, Kovalev can explode at any time.
“In the past, it seemed we were always on the road on the 23rd and then we played again
on the 26th or 27th. Pittsburgh has the tough schedule this time.”
- Guy Carbonneau
19,312: Marc-Andre Fleury’s vote lead over Carey Price for starting goaltender in the 2009 All-Star Game in Montreal as of Friday night. Fleury has 1,015,348 votes compared to Price’s 996,036. Fleury needs to play one more game to become officially eligible to play in the All-Star Game (meeting the 20 games played minimum requirement).

Author: Sam Kasan

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