HabsWorld.net -- 

UPDATE 18:00 : Sidney Crosby won’t play tonight, due to an upper-body injury

Will Crosby’s absence give a chance to the struggling Habs? This has to be a question that will haunt Canadiens fans leading up to Thursday night’s clash with the Penguins. The Hockey Gods seemed to have picked a good time for the Crosby-less Pens to visit La Belle Province, as the Canadiens have been mired in their worst stretch of the season. Inconsistent and lackadaisical efforts have plagued the team that at one point occupied the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

No one on the team, other than Tomas Plekanec, has been able to light the lamp on a regular basis. The defence corps is beginning to show the signs of both its age and its youth. Also, despite being far from the team’s biggest problem, Carey Price hasn’t been the lights out goalie he was in the early parts of the season. On the flip side, the Penguins seem to have rounded into form.

Sidney Crosby’s accomplishments this season need not be reviewed. After struggling earlier in the year, Evgeni Malkin has averaged over a point per game in his last eight, and seems to be playing with more gusto and gumption. Kris Letang has emerged into one of the league’s most feared power play threats while Marc André Fleury is reminding Penguins fans of the man who backstopped his team to two straight finals appearances. Finally, Jordan Staal has made his long awaited return to the lineup, which once again gives the Penguins the most dominant group of centremen in the league. All signs would point to a Canadiens team being knee deep in… “trouble”. On the other hand, a visit from Crosby and company could be just what the doctor ordered.

The Penguins will be playing their second game in as many nights upon their visit to the Bell Center. If the well rested Canadiens can capitalize on their three day break, it could go a long way in rebuilding the confidence of this team. A win against a legitimate Stanley Cup contender could be the spark the Habs need to get out of their recent slump. The Habs have usually played the Penguins and their captain very tough, and should expect an energized crowd ready to shower the Cole Harbour native with expletives normally reserved for a Bruce Boudreau pregame speech.

Working in the Habs’ favour is the improved play of Scott Gomez. After stumbling out of the gate, Gomez has accumulated 12 points in his last 10 games. Max Pacioretty has played well since his most recent call-up, averaging nearly three shots a game and doing a good job parking his keister in front of opposing goalies. Also, James Wisniewski has been making Pierre Gauthier look like an absolute genius. Wisniewski has 5 points, 8 shots and is averaging over 22 minutes per game since his acquisition. Of course, if the Habs are to even compete in this game, a number of players need to step up.

Andrei Kostitsyn needs to charge the net more often and play like the big man on that line. Andrei must use his size more effectively by screening the goalie and getting into the dirty areas. Playing next to Plekanec and Cammalleri will bring chances; it’s up to Andrei to capitalize on them. The defence needs to solidify itself, and can’t afford to play like it did against the Thrashers, in which it allowed Andrew Ladd to charge the net and score off a pass that should have been intercepted twice. In general, the Habs need to be the more aggressive team on Thursday, and take advantage of an undersized Pittsburgh defence. The Habs need to treat this visit from the world’s best player as an opportunity and not let themselves be used as a doormat.

Puck drop is at 7:30, and can be seen on RDS.