The Canadiens (14-4-3) return to Montreal to host the Penguins (13-8-0) Saturday night at the Bell Centre. The game starts at 7:00 and airs on CBC and RDS.
This is the first of three meetings for the Habs and Pens, and the only meeting in Montreal. Saturday is the first team Michel Therrien will get to coach against his prior team, a team still composed of many players he led to within two wins of a Stanley Cup. Marc-Andre Fleury, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Pascal Dupuis, Tyler Kennedy and the currently injured Evgeni Malkin are still mainstays in the Penguins lineup but the team also boasts plenty of newer faces like James Neal.
What to Watch:
Montreal’s rookies, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, are both in the top-10 for rookie scoring this year. With 3 goals and 9 assists, Galchenyuk is tied for fourth in rookie points. Gallagher’s 9 points has him in eighth and his 6 goals are tied for third best among rookies, just 2 shy of leader Jonathan Huberdeau.
Michael Ryder had an uneventful night his first game back with the Canadiens. Ryder finished Wednesday night with no points, no shots and a -1 rating in roughly 14 and a half minutes of ice time, bringing an end to his 6-game point streak. Ryder took over Erik Cole’s spot on the line with Galchenyuk and Lars Eller on Wednesday, we’ll see if he keeps that spot this weekend.
With Evegeni Malkin sidelined, it’s up to Sidney Crosby to pick up the slack. Crosby leads the league in assists with 22 and points with 31. Chris Kunitz is having the best season of his career with 9 goals and 24 points in 21 games. Kunitz is on a four game points streak, he was left off the scoresheet only twice in 14 games in February, picking up 20 points last month.
What’s at Stake:
Saturday night is the first chance for Michel Therrien to get some revenge against his former team, but you can bet the coach who has been preaching team first all season won’t be thinking too much about that Saturday night. Instead the coach should have the team focused on sticking to the game plan that has seen them go 7-0-2 in their last 9 games, lifting them to the top of the Eastern conference.
Pittsburgh has now slipped to three points back of the Habs and have the Devils nipping at their heels in the Atlantic division race.
The Habs are missing Rene Bourque and Raphael Diaz who are both dealing with concussions. Petteri Nokelainen (back) returned to practice this week, but still isn’t ready to make his way into the Canadiens’ lineup just yet.
The Penguins are missing Evgeni Malkin who is suffering with a concussion of his own. Defenseman Paul Martin (lower body) didn’t finish Thursday’s game against the Hurricanes and missed Friday’s practice, no word yet if he’ll be in the lineup Saturday. Martin has been a big part of the Pens’ blueline, he and Kris Letang lead the team’s defensemen in points with 15.
Carey Price will be honored before Saturday’s game with the Molson Cup as Montreal’s MVP for the month of February. Price started 11 games in February and earned a 7-2-2 record with 2 shutouts. He’s tied with Tuukka Rask for the league lead in wins with 11.
The Penguins are not without their honors for February as well, Sidney Crosby was named the NHL’s second star of the month. Crosby had 6 goals and 18 assists in 14 games last month, and posted six 3-point performances.
Be sure to tune into the Montreal Hockey Talk Pregame Show an hour before the puck drop and the Post Game Show 5 minutes after the final siren.