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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Canadiens

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (25-8-0) vs. CANADIENS (20-6-5)
WHEN: March 26, 2013 - 7:00 p.m.  |  WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS  |  LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM

Former Penguins coach Michel Therrien comes to Pittsburgh for the first time as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night at CONSOL Energy Center. His team currently ranks second in the Eastern Conference behind the Penguins and has won seven of 10 games (getting points in eight) since falling to Pittsburgh in overtime in a wild back-and-forth affair on March 2.

The Canadiens put on a dazzling display of offense that evening at the Bell Centre, scoring six goals against the Penguins. They have one of the league’s top offenses – tied for sixth in the NHL – and what’s especially dangerous about them is their balanced attack, as they get contributions from all their lines. That being said, the trio of Michael Ryder, Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta has been Montreal’s most productive recently. Ryder has 11 points (4G-7A) in 11 games since being acquired from Dallas on Feb. 25, Plekanec leads the team with 12 goals and has seven points (2G-5A) in his last seven games while captain Gionta has six goals in 11 games this month.

The Canadiens also have defensemen who are threats in the offensive zone. P.K. Subban leads all NHL defensemen with nine goals, and he and Andrei Markov both rank in the top 10 in scoring among league blueliners. They’re both crucial components of Montreal’s power play, especially Markov. He averages 4:56 minutes per game and has a league leading 18 points on the man-advantage.

Under Therrien, the Habs have become a structurally sound team across all 200 feet of the ice, that 7-6 game being more of an anomaly than anything else. Overall Carey Price has been fantastic in goal, going 16-5-4 in 25 starts. But if there’s one aspect of Montreal’s game that truly needs improvement, it’s their penalty kill. Montreal finished with the league’s No. 2 penalty kill last season, but that success hasn’t carried over to this season despite having virtually same personnel. It’s the area they’re struggling the most, ranking 20th in the NHL and giving up crucial goals in games. Defenseman Josh Gorges cited a lack of aggressiveness as something they must improve.

(Getty Images)

Max Pacioretty – David Desharnais – Brendan Gallagher
Michael Ryder – Tomas Plekanec – Brian Gionta
Alex Galchenyuk – Lars Eller – Colby Armstrong
Travis Moen – Jeff Halpern – Gabriel Dumont

Andrei Markov – Alexei Emelin
Josh Gorges – P.K. Subban
Jarred Tinordi – Francis Bouillon

(Getty Images)

The Penguins saw what Subban is capable of in their last meeting with the Habs, when the defenseman sneaked down to the front of the net unnoticed, got a pass from Brendan Gallagher and got a big tying goal to even the score at 4-4 with just one second left in the second period. It’s been an adjustment for the flashy Subban playing under no-nonsense, team-first coach Michel Therrien this season, especially after holding out through training camp and the first six games of the year because of contract issues. But it looks like he’s figured it out, as he leads all NHL defensemen in scoring with nine goals while playing well in his own end. He’ll be a player both Pittsburgh’s forwards and defensemen will have to be aware of.

Niskanen has been clutch the last few games for Pittsburgh, assisting on Tyler Kennedy’s overtime winner on Sunday against Philadelphia with a sweet, no-look spin-o-rama backhand feed and scoring the game-winning goal against the Capitals last week. With Letang out, Niskanen has been getting time on the top power-play unit and more of an opportunity to showcase his big shot and offensive talent. And while he’ll be counted on to do that Tuesday, the Penguins will also need Niskanen to be a tough, physical presence defensively against a Habs squad that can attack throughout their entire lineup and whose blueliners get involved offensively.

- Pittsburgh enters Tuesday’s game having won a NHL-season-high 12 straight games.
- The Penguins have won nine straight home games. A win Tuesday would tie them for the second-longest home winning streak in franchise history.
-The Penguins are 10-3-2 in their last 15 games against the Canadiens, including 3-1 in the last four meetings.
- Each of the last four meetings between the Penguins and Canadiens have been one-goal games – including two shootouts.
- Pittsburgh has gone 5-2 against Montreal in the last seven meetings here in Pittsburgh. During those games the Penguins have outscored Montreal, 23-17.
- This season the Penguins have gone 8-1 against teams from the Northeast Division. They lost the home opener against Toronto (5-2) on Jan. 23 before winning each of the last eight games.

Brooks Orpik is closing in on a couple of games played milestones. Tuesday will be his 619th career game, tying him with Ron Schock for sixth place on the franchise’s all-time list. Orpik will be two games played shy of tying Ron Stackhouse (621 games) for fifth place on the team’s all-time list. Once Orpik passes Stackhouse, he will have appeared in the most games of any defenseman in franchise history.

The Penguins have won a season-high 12-straight games entering Tuesday’s contest. During the streak, they have outscored foes by a 45-26 margin. Eight of the 12 wins have been one-goal wins – with two more of the victories, including Friday’s win over the Islanders – ending with the Penguins scoring empty-net goals. Pittsburgh’s goaltenders have combined to post a .924 save percentage (315 saves/341 shots).

The Penguins’ 12-0 record in March allowed the team to tie the club record for wins in a calendar month (12-3-2 in 2006-07). Including Tuesday, Pittsburgh has three chances to establish a new mark.

Pittsburgh’s current 12-game winning streak marks the third-straight season – and fifth time since 1992-93 –that the franchise has won 10 or more consecutive games. To put that into perspective, of the NHL’s 30 teams, 13 have NEVER won 10 or more consecutive games. With a win Tuesday against the Canadiens, the Penguins will post the eighth winning streak of 13 or more games in NHL history.

Tuesday, Montreal head coach Michel Therrien will be coaching his first game at CONSOL Energy Center. Therrien, who led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2008, last coached a NHL game in Pittsburgh on Feb. 11, 2009 when he helped lead the Penguins to a 2-1 shootout defeat of the San Jose Sharks at then-Mellon Arena. As head coach of the Penguins, Therrien posted a record of 75-44-17 (.614 pct.) in 136 regular-season home games.

The Penguins have now won four games this season when they trail heading into the third period following Sunday’s 2-1 overtime defeat of Philadelphia. Dating back to last season, Pittsburgh has won 12 such games – most in the NHL.

The Penguins enter Tuesday’s game having allowed just nine goals over the previous eight games dating back to March 10. That’s the fewest goals allowed by any NHL team during that stretch. During this eight-game stretch, Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun have combined to stop 207-of-216 opposition shots for a .958 save percentage.

Game notes courtesy of Penguins manager of communications Jason Seidling

D Kris Letang, lower body
F Evgeni Malkin, upper body

F Rene Bourque, concussion
D Raphael Diaz, concussion
F Brandon Prust, shoulder
D Yannick Weber, knee

Author: Michelle Crechiolo

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