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Pittsburgh vs. Montreal Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (16-8-0-32) vs. Montreal Canadiens (12-11-1-25)

Where: Mellon Arena
Wednesday, November 25, 7:30 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 Broadcast Schedule here()

Season Series:
Pittsburgh and Montreal meet for the second of four meetings in 2009-10, and the final matchup at Mellon Arena. The Penguins torched the Canadiens on Oct. 28, 6-1, behind Sidney Crosby’s third career hat trick, a four-point night from Chris Kunitz (1G-3A) and three assists from Bill Guerin.




Last Meeting: Oct. 28, 2009
PIT 6 - MON 1
Game Highlights
AP Recap
Raucous Crowd: Playing the night before Thanksgiving has long been a Penguins tradition, and the atmosphere at Mellon Arena is usually amped several notches as out-of-town fans return to the Igloo as they visit family for the holidays. Wednesday’s crowd will be further treated to Maxime Talbot’s home debut, and judging by his reception on opening night, there are going to be extra cheers for that, too.

Tenacious Forecheck: Pittsburgh’s forecheck in the Montreal zone was ferocious in the first matchup, leading directly to Sidney Crosby’s first and third goals. Both Crosby and Chris Kunitz talked after the game how they focused on keeping a third man higher in the offensive end, and twice Kunitz kept plays alive at the blue line, quickly getting the puck back down low to Crosby all alone for scores.
Expectations were through the roof for the Canadiens in ’08-09, one season after posting the best regular-season record in the Eastern Conference. Production did not match the hype as the Canadiens finished the season in eighth place before being swept in the first round by archrival Boston. Among the most historic franchises in professional sports history, the Canadiens have won a league-record 24 Stanley Cup championships, but their fans are feeling restless as the 17 years since their last title is the longest drought in club history. The Canadiens have been very streaky through the first quarter of this season with a four-game winning streak and a stretch of five-consecutive losses on their resume.

Former St. Louis Blues, Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers bench boss Jacques Martin steps in to replace general manager Bob Gainey, who coached the team on an interim basis at the end of last season. Martin brings 1,121 games, 528 coaching wins and three division championships into Wednesday night’s game. However, in his three seasons behind the bench in Florida, the team failed to reach the playoffs in all three campaigns.
This summer could be dubbed “Extreme Makeover: Montreal Edition.” The Canadiens severed ties with five of their top nine leading scorers from 08-09, electing to not re-sign Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay, Robert Lang and Mathieu Schnieder. Among the many new faces brought in to replace them are three former Stanley Cup champions in Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Hal Gill, although each is currently missing from the lineup due to injury.

Gionta and Gomez had past success as linemates in New Jersey, particularly in 2005-06 when Gionta scored a career-high 48 goals and 89 points while Gomez registered 51 assists and 84 points. High-scoring Mike Cammalleri was signed to round out the Habs’ new top line. Cammalleri enjoyed a monster season with Calgary in ’08-09, scoring 39 times and assisting on 43 others playing mostly on a line with Jarome Iginla. Cammalleri has been one of the Canadiens’ most consistent players, leading the team in goals (11) and plus/minus (plus-9), while his 20 points rank second on the squad.

Former Penguin Gill proved throughout the 2009 playoffs how effective he can be against the game’s top offensive threats, teaming with Rob Scuderi to keep Eric Staal, Pavel Datsyuk and Marian Hossa in check during the final two rounds. Gill has already earned the respect of his new teammates, being elected an alternate captain. Jaroslav Spacek, who spent the past three seasons in Buffalo, is equally effective supplying offense as he is playing tough defense in his own zone. He posted a career-high 45 points (8G-37A) for the Sabres in ’08-09.
Czech-native Tomas Plekanec is off to a great start for the Canadiens after his production took a step backwards last season. He leads the team through 23 games with 17 assists and 22 points. Plekanec and Scott Gomez give the Canadiens a great one-two punch down the middle. Gomez never quite fit while in the Big Apple after signing with the Rangers three summers ago, but appears plenty comfortable reunited with Brian Gionta. He has recorded 11 points (2G-9A) in 22 games through Tuesday. Gionta saw his numbers drop four-consecutive seasons for the Devils, from a career-high 48 goals in ’05-06 to 20 tallies last year, the second-lowest full-season total of his career. With eight goals in his first 19 games, Gionta should easily surpass that total even though he is currently out indefinitely with a broken foot.

Montreal has gotten surprising offense from its third line of Travis Moen, Max Pocioretty and Glen Metropolit. One of the league’s grittiest players, Moen is third (tied) on the team with five goals through 23 games and also leads the Canadiens with 49 hits. After scoring only 17 points in 76 games with the Canadiens and Flyers last season, Metropolit has 10 (4G-6A) through his first 17 games in ’09-10. Montreal traded Guillaume Latendresse to the Minnesota Wild on Monday night in exchange for Benoit Pouliot, a 23-year-old life-long Canadiens fan. Pouliot never established himself with the Wild after being chosen fourth-overall in 2005, one spot ahead of his new teammate, Carey Price. He adds even more speed and skill to a Montreal lineup that already boasted plenty of each.
Montreal was dealt a harsh blow when Andrei Markov was sidelined indefinitely when he severed a tendon on the skate of Carey Price in the opener. Only Mike Green of Washington finished with more points than the 64 (12G-52A) registered by Markov last year. To replace his offense the Canadiens signed power-play specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron. Through 17 games Bergeron is tied for the team lead among defensemen with seven points (3G-4A).

Veteran Roman Hamrlik has started strong in the early going by serving as the Canadiens de facto leader with Markov out. He has a team-leading (tied) seven points (4G-3A) from the blue line and leads Montreal in average ice time at 25:12 per game. Jaroslav Spacek had a quiet beginning to the season but has seven points (1G-6A) to go along with his plus-6 rating. The 35-year-old Spacek has 310 career points (74G-236A) and is a plus-31 through 724 career games.

Hal Gill and Paul Mara were added to provide muscle to the back end. Each has certainly provided that, as they rank 1-2 (Mara, 35; Gill, 31) in penalty minutes for Montreal. As Penguin fans know, Gill can be impossible to penetrate around with his size and long stick while Mara owns above-average puck skills, particularly moving the puck ahead to the forwards from his own zone. He has seven assists through 23 games.
Carey Price saw his play drop off in ’08-09 after a strong rookie season which saw him win 24 games while leading the Canadiens to the top record in the conference and a seven-game opening-round defeat of the Boston Bruins. He finished last season with a record of 23-16-10 with a 2.83 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage. 

Price had a tough start to this season, winning just two of his first six starts and posting a 3.36 goals-against average and an .886 save percentage heading into the first matchup with Pittsburgh. Since then he has been sensational for the Canadiens, going 4-2-1 with a 1.94 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage in his last seven games. He was named NHL “Second Star” for the week ending Nov. 22. 

Jaroslav Halak got the start against the Penguins in the first game and brought a four-game winning streak into that contest. After allowing four goals on 23 shots and getting pulled after two periods, he has ceded the starting gig back to Price. Halak finished last season with the better numbers of the two goaltenders, going 18-4-1 with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage.
Andrei Kostitsyn has stepped his game up the past two weeks as the injury bug has taken a dearth of offensive talent from the Canadiens’ lineup. Inserted on the top line with Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri, Kostitsyn has recorded points in three straight games (1G-3A). Last season he registered the only hat trick of his NHL career against the Penguins in a 3-2 win at Mellon Arena on Dec. 27.

Kostitsyn has a great shot and an extremely high skill set which might be the best on a highly skilled Montreal team. In 11 career games against the Penguins he has nine points (5G-4A), tied for his second-best total against any one team. In his first two full seasons he has finished with goal totals of 26 and 23. Through 23 games in ’09-10 he has nine points (2G-7A).
Montreal’s injury report could provide a solid nucleus to an all-star team.
- Center Scott Gomez has been sidelined since Nov. 20 with a lower-body injury and his return to the lineup is unclear at this point.
- Forward Brian Gionta has been on the shelf since Nov. 14 with a broken bone in his foot. He is listed as out indefinitely.
- All-star defenseman Andrei Markov damaged several tendons in his leg during the Canadiens season opener and will be out until at least February.
- Former Penguin Hal Gill will not return until late November after being placed on injured reserve with a hairline fracture in his foot.
- Matt D’Agostini had resumed skating but there is no timetable for his return to game action following a concussion sustained on Oct. 30.
“We all know what Andrei can do. He’s a good forechecker who throws his body around and can make great passes. He creates a lot of space for us out there so that we can get open and take advantage of our opportunities.”

- Tomas Plekanec talking to the Canadiens official website about the improved play of Andrei Kostitsyn.

10-4: Montreal’s record against the Eastern Conference in ’09-10. Prior to their matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday they were only 1-7-1 versus the West.  

Author: Jason Seidling

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