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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Canadiens

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (23-17-4) vs. CANADIENS (17-21-8)

WHEN: Jan. 20, 2012 - 7:00 pm  |  WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS  |  LISTEN: Penguins 24/7 Radio, 105.9 FM

The Montreal Canadiens are fading fast from the playoffs and need a quick turnaround to keep their postseason hopes alive. The club sits in the 13th spot in the Eastern Conference standings, 10 points behind eighth-place Florida.

Montreal interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth
The team had a sluggish start to the season, going 13-12-7 by mid-December. Looking to shake things up, general manager Pierre Gauthier removed head coach Jacques Martin and replaced him with interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth on Dec. 17.

The move sparked some controversy in Montreal, as Cunneyworth, a former Penguin, isn’t fluent in the native tongue of French, though he has stated that he plans on learning the language during the season.

However, Cunneyworth’s troubles are more than just a language barrier. Since he has taken over the Habs have nosedived to a 4-9-1 record. Cunneyworth will have to find some answers soon or else Montreal could miss the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2007.

Last week, the Habs traded forward Mike Cammalleri to the Calgary Flames after he said the team had a “losing mentality.” Cammalleri was pulled from a game against Boston after the second period, sent back to the team’s hotel and was told he’d been traded. In exchange, Montreal picked up Rene Bourque.

Bourque is a three-time 20-goal scorer (notching 27 in each of the past two seasons), and could help with the Canadiens offense, which ranks 23rd in the league with 2.5 goals per game. The Habs have also struggled with the man-advantage, ranking dead last in the NHL with a 12.3-percent success rate.

Both of those points were evidenced in a 3-0 loss to Washington Wednesday night. Not only were the Habs held off the scoreboard, but they came up empty on seven power-play opportunities in over 12 minutes.

Despite their current woes, the Canadiens have always played well against the Penguins. And with their season slipping away, expect them to play a desperate brand of hockey.


Bourque plays a physical game with his solid build (6-foot-2, 211 pounds) and is a threat to score goals. Bourque, who joined the Canadiens last week in a trade for Mike Cammalleri, has a quick shot and isn’t afraid to play in the dirty areas. He’s posted 20-plus goals over the last three seasons, and is on pace to get close to 30 this year. The tough forward isn’t afraid to play in the dirty areas on the ice, and can sometimes play with an edge.

Pens defender Kris Letang came back in a big way Thursday night in New York, his first game after missing 21 with a concussion/broken nose. Letang led the team in ice time with 24:17, notched an assist, was a plus-2 and had three shots. He always plays well against his hometown Canadiens - see his overtime winning goal Nov. 26. He'll have a lot of jump when he hits the ice against the Habs.

The Pens and Habs will meet for the first time since Nov. 26. In that contest, Kris Letang suffered a concussion from a hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty. Letang, who missed 21 games before returning to the lineup Thursday night, was skating through the offensive zone when Pacioretty clipped him in the head. Letang also suffered a broken nose from the hit.

Evgeni Malkin continues to abuse opponents. He scored two goals Thursday night at New York to extend his scoring streak to four games with a total of nine points (7G-2A). Malkin has scored nine goals in his last seven games.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has made 19 straight appearances (17 starts), the most he's played consecutively since appearing in 17 consecutive games Jan. 22-March 2 of last season. During the Stanley Cup championship season, Fleury appeared in 20 consecutive contests from Dec. 18, 2008 to Jan. 30, 2009. He played in 39 of 40 games during a stretch of that season (Dec. 18-March 14).

The Penguins finally had some good injury news as defenseman Kris Letang returned to the lineup Thursday night in New York. It was his first game since Nov. 26 at Montreal, a span of 21- games missed.

But on the bad news front, the team learned that Arron Asham, who's missed the last two games for the club, is dealing with an illness and concussion-like symptoms.

Brian Gionta tore his right bicep Dec. 17 against St. Louis. He is out indefinitely. Gionta also missed 11 games with a lower-body injury.

Markov, underwent a successful minor arthroscopic procedure Dec. 5 on his right knee, which required ACL surgery last season. The Habs hope Markov will return after the All-Star break.

F Sidney Crosby, concussion-like symptoms (18)
D Simon Despres, Grade 1 MCL (5)
D Kris Letang, broken nose and concussion (22)
F Jordan Staal, knee (7)

F Brian Gionta, torn right bicep (4)
D Andrei Markov, minor arthroscopic procedure (46)
D Ryan White, sports hernia (46)

Author: Sam Kasan

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