Pittsburgh (35-21-1) at Montreal (27-25-6) –
Saturday, February 6th, 2010.
The fourth and final game of the season series
between the Montreal Canadiens and the Pittsburgh Penguins concludes Saturday
afternoon, as the two teams meet for the first time since December 10th.
The Penguins won that game 3-2, and have won the other two games, 6-1 and 3-1,
to remain unbeaten against the Habs this season. Montreal is coming off 2
wins over Vancouver and Boston, where they managed victories despite being
thoroughly outshot and outplayed for significant chunks of time.
Pittsburgh is also on a 2-game winning streak, having most recently beaten the
Buffalo Sabres, 5-4, on February 1st. The Canadiens are 4-4-2 over their
last 10 games while the Penguins are 7-3-0.
It will be hard to deny Jaroslav Halak (16-8-2,
2.40 GAA, .930 SV%) another start after 2 consecutive 45-save wins; however,
with Montreal playing back-to-back matinees, one would think that Carey Price
(11-17-4, 2.73 GAA, .913 SV%) might see some ice time. Halak has started
the last 3 games, but was pulled in his only start against the Penguins this
year. Price, who has been benched since January 27th, hasn’t recorded a
win since January 14th. Pittsburgh also plays back-to back games this
weekend, so MA Fleury (28-15-1, 2.59 GAA, .908 SV%) and Brent Johnson (7-5-0,
2.68 GAA, .913 SV%) may split the goaltending duties. Fleury has started
all 3 games against Montreal this season, owning a 1.33 GAA and .938 SV% over
Tomas Plekanec remains the Canadiens’ scoring leader (14G,
41A), despite missing his usual linemates, Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn. Cammalleri (26G, 22A)
and Scott Gomez (7G, 30A) round out the scoring for the Canadiens, while Benoit
Pouliot (3 points in 3 games) and Sergei Kostitsyn (3 points in 2 games) have
stepped up their games in light of the recent injuries. Pittsburgh’s
scoring leader easily dwarfs those of Montreal, as Sidney Crosby (37G, 34A) is
on pace for a great year, and sits 3rd in league scoring. It is a
testament to Evgeni Malkin’s great skill, when one can conclude that the former
Art Ross winner is having an "off-year" with 19G and 38A through 50 games.
Pittsburgh’s potent firepower has them sitting
5th in the league in goal scoring with an average of 3.04 goals per game.
Montreal continues to have troubles finding the back of the net, placing 28th in
the league (2.48 goals per game), ahead of only the New York Islanders and the
Boston Bruins. The fact that Montreal only averages 27.6 shots per game
(29th) surely factors into this deficiency. One would have to assume that
the only reason Montreal is presently in the playoff picture is due to stellar
goaltending, as they sit 11th in the league in goals against category (2.66
GAA). Conversely, Pittsburgh’s offense has compensated for a mediocre defence
that places 21st in the NHL with a 2.82 GAA.
Montreal went 1 for 2 against Boston on
Thursday, and their powerplay remains one of the best in the league (25.4%),
second only to the Alex Ovechkin-powered Washington Capitals (26.1%).
Despite their elite ranking, the Habs struggle at home with the man advantage
(18.3%). Despite featuring the talents of Crosby, Malkin and Sergei
Gonchar, Pittsburgh has proven largely inadequate on the powerplay, and sits
25th in the NHL with a conversion rate of 16.3%. The two teams rank more
closely on the penalty-kill, as both Montreal (83.5%, 7th) and Pittsburgh
(82.8%, 11th) employ effective shorthanded units. In the season series
thus far, Montreal has gone 2 for 6 with the man advantage while Pittsburgh has
gone 2 for 12.
Montreal will be without Mike Cammalleri
(knee), Andrei Kostitsyn (knee surgery), Paul Mara (upper body) and Marc-Andre
Bergeron (lower body) who left Thursday’s game after blocking a shot.
Montreal has called up David Desharnais, Brock Trotter and Ryan White to fill
the roster. The diminutive Desharnais was a -1 in his only game with
Montreal, but has 16G and 32A in 37 games with the Bulldogs. Trotter leads
all Bulldogs and is 4th in AHL scoring with 25G and 28A through 49 games.
The mass call-up seems to be a precautionary measure as Plekanec, Pouliot and
the younger Kostitsyn opted out of Friday’s practice to rest. Pittsburgh
is expected to be missing Eric Godard (groin), but Chris Kunitz (abdominal
surgery) and Maxime Talbot (groin) are questionable for Saturday’s tilt.
The game can be seen on RDS, CBC and FS-P. Game-time is 2pm EST.
This preview was written by Matt