This coming weekend could have a major impact on the future of the Montreal Canadiens for the 2011-12 NHL season.
The Habs are ten points back of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and play back-to-back games against a pair of teams sitting on the cusp of the post season sweepstakes. The Canadiens cannot afford to lose the game period, and a three-point game is definitely not acceptable. Their opponents will likely not be in favour of either scenario, so expect a fight out of them.
More on the other team tomorrow, but first up is the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are coming home after a 4-1 win last night over the New York Rangers. The Pens have now won four straight, after losing a haf-dozen games in a row.
Leading the offensive charge is Evgeni Malkin, who has stepped up in the absence of Sidney Crosby. In the 18 games since Crosby went back on the injured list, Malkin has 30 points (15 goals), and leads the NHL in scoring. The Russian forward has nine points in the Pens winning streak, including two goals last night.
For the Canadiens, we could see the anchor on the penalty kill, Hal Gill, sit as a healthy scratch tonight. Chris Campoli was used in a Thursday practice that primarily focused on the stalled power play. Coach Randy Cunneyworth wouldn't tip his hand to any roster changes, but given Gill's decline in minutes, under the unpredictable Habs bench boss, conclusions are quickly being reached.
Cunnneyworth also wouldn't tip his hat to his starting goaltender, opening the door of possibility that Peter Budaj might get the call against Pittsburgh. The Habs backup goalie is 0-1-1 (2.43, .925) against the Penguins.
MONTREAL CANADIENS PROJECTED LINEUP
Hal Gill - Tomas Kaberle
Carey Price - Peter Budaj
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS PROJECTED LINEUP
SBN Penguins coverage at PensBurgh