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Pittsburgh vs. Montreal Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (44-28-9-97) vs. Montreal Canadiens (41-29-11-93)

Where: Bell Centre
Saturday, April 11, at 7 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series:
Montreal leads the series with a 2-1-0 mark against the Penguins. In the previous meeting at Bell Centre, Montreal recorded a 4-2 victory Feb. 3.



  Pens vs. Canadiens 2/19

Limit their Power: The Canadiens have played much better lately, thanks in particular to the improved play of Alex Kovalev and the team’s power play. If the Penguins want to beat the Habs, they have to stay out of the penalty box.

The Penguins have come a long way from their midseason slump. Now home-ice advantage in the opening round, an alien though two months ago, is a realistic possibility. Pittsburgh needs some help but even if the cards don’t fall its way, the team wants to finish the season strong heading into its third consecutive postseason. 
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). Head coach Guy Carbonneau’s club pulled off an impressive 14-game run in parts of December and January with an 11-2-1 mark. However, the team fell on some tough times after that point. The Habs won only three games (5-16-2) in a 23-game stretch and Carbonneau was relieved of his duties as coach. General manager Bob Gainey took over and the club showed slight improvement. The Habs locked up a playoff spot with their 5-0 overtime loss to Boston.
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. 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, forward Robert Lang and tough-guy Georges Laraque. Gainey sent a few draft picks to Atlanta for defenseman Mathieu Schneider. He traded Steve Begin to Dallas for Doug Janik and claimed Glen Metropolit off waivers.
Montreal’s offense hasn’t been as productive as last year, when it scored the most goals in the league. The Canadiens averaged 2.98 goals per game to rank 11th in the NHL.

Alex Kovalev led the team in scoring with 65 points on a team-best 26 goals and 39 assists but has been inconsistent throughout the year. He’s been playing tremendous lately, posting 17 points (9+8) in his last nine games. A foot/ankle injury limited Saku Koivu to only 64 games but he still tallied 50 points (16+34). Alex Tanguay, the third member of the top line, has posted 16 goals and 25 assists (41P) in 50 games. He missed time during the season with a shoulder injury.

Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plekanec and Matt D’Agostini form the team’s second combination. Kostitsyn posted 23 goals and 41 points and has five goals and seven points in three games against the Penguins this year. Plekanec chipped in 39 points (20-19). D’Agostini has 12 goals and 21 points in his rookie campaign.

The team suffered a huge blow when then team-leading goal scorer Robert Lang was injured against Boston at Bell Centre Feb. 1. Lang was transferred to the Montreal General Hospital where he underwent successful surgery to repair a severed Achilles tendon. Lang was second on the team with 39 points at the time of his injury.
The Canadiens have a veteran group on the blue line but the corps has allowed 2.93 goals against per game this season, ranking 21st in the NHL.

Andrei Markov is a top-tier defenseman in the NHL and had a remarkable season. He led all NHL defensemen in assists (52) and finished second in points (64). His 64 points also were second most on the Canadiens, but he has been out with an unspecified injury suffered last Saturday. Mike Komisarek is maturing into a quality defensive defenseman and has developed a good rapport alongside Markov. At 6-foot-4, 242 pounds, the 27-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 and leads the team with a plus-13 rating. 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 38. 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. Veteran Mathieu Schneider, who played with Brisebois on that ’93 Cup team, was brought in to help add depth to the backend. Schneider, who was Montreal’s third-round pick in 1987, was also injured but made a surprise return against Boston to help the Habs clinch a playoff berth.
The development of Carey Price is a major bright spot for the Canadeins. Price was the fifth-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft and has made the leap to the NHL sooner than expected. He’s built on a phenomenal rookie season with a solid effort on the current campaign. Price was voted to start the All-Star Game in Montreal at only 21 years old.

Jaroslav Halak backed up Price following Cristobal 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.
Price emerged on the scene last year and stole the Canadiens’ starting job. 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. This season Price has posted a 23-15-10 mark, 2.82 GAA and .905 save percentage. He’s a big goaltender who plays a very sound technique.
'“It was important for us to clinch a spot in the playoffs and that’s what we did in getting a point on Thursday. The Bruins are the top team in the East. They had all their key elements available to them, but 60 minutes wasn’t enough to beat us.”
- General manager/interim head coach Bob Gainey on clinching a playoff spot
> Montreal is 16-for-47 (34 percent) on the power play in its last nine games. 

Author: Sam Kasan

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