In the first full week of February, Montreal endured the lowest point of its season to date. After a tough loss to the Bruins, the Canadiens blew a late lead against the Sabres, and then had the unthinkable happen. The Habs embarrassed themselves in a 6-0, mayhem-filled home loss to the Maple Leafs. The Canadiens took the next two days to regroup, before tearing off a five game win streak than not only ensconced them at the top of the NHL's Eastern Conference, but jumpstarted the excellent play that has generally been characteristic of the team over the last six weeks.
Coming off a week that saw a win against the Islanders sandwiched between two losses to the Sabres, Montreal finds themselves in a somewhat similar lull. While there's no need for Montreal to further demonstrate their candidacy as a playoff-worthy team, emerging from this trough with another strong run would cement Montreal's place amongst the East's, and the League's, best. This time, however, Montreal will have to make their run without the advantage of playing in Florida. Their first opportunity to start a new streak comes tonight, as the Canadiens enter the CONSOL Energy Center looking for a win.
The Penguins have bolstered their lineup in recent days, adding veterans Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray. It remains to be seen as to whether Murray will play only one day after being acquired, though the Penguins have confirmed that Morrow will suit up against the Canadiens. Morrow adds veteran leadership and size in front of the net to a deep Pens squad, but is no longer the offensive threat he was in his prime. For a quick scouting report on Morrow, please refer to this handy article from our colleagues at Pensburgh.
The Penguins have ascended to the top of the East at the same time that Sidney Crosby has reminded us that he's the best player in the NHL. Crosby leads the league with 53 points headed into Tuesday night, a full twelve points clear of his linemate and chief beneficiary Chris Kunitz. Crosby and Kunitz combined for six points in the most recent showdown between the Habs and Penguins, with Kunitz banging home two Crosby set-ups before returning the favour in the third period. If Montreal hopes to claim two points this time out, it goes without saying that they'll need to avoid the six even strength goals against that they allowed in the defensive debacle of three weeks ago.
While the Penguins often seem dangerous regardless of who's in the lineup, Montreal will have the benefit of a couple of Pittsburgh injuries. Evgeni Malkin is still out, and Kris Letang is still dealing with a lower-body injury.
Montreal will continue to suffer the absence of Rene Bourque, Raphael Diaz, Yannick Weber, and Ryan White. Brandon Prust took a light skate on Monday, but he too will miss the game. Jeff Halpern will make his Canadiens debut, and the Habs will hope to take advantage of his faceoff ability and defensive prowess.
The Penguins will go with Marc-Andre Fleury, who sat in favour of Tomas Vokoun earlier in the month. In four starts against last year's inferior version of le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge, Fleury went 3-0-1 with a .912 save percentage. The Canadiens will go with Carey Price in net, who got shelled for all seven Pittsburgh goals in his last outing against the Penguins.