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Canadiens vs Penguins game preview

Can the Habs topple the Penguins for a second straight weekend?

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Admittedly, the Habs have been a team that has struggled to find success in some phases of their game. Nonetheless, they have done what they're supposed to all year: win.

In their Tuesday night game against Tampa Bay, however, they got a rude awakening.

The Montreal Canadiens failed to establish much traction against their division rivals, and when J.T. Brown scored to pull the Lightning even with the Habs, the game began to spiral out of control. Tampa played a dominant second period, out-shooting Montreal 16-7 and scoring four goals to essentially put the game away. Flashes of offence at the end of a frantic third period made the game look closer than it was, but for the second straight game, the Bolts had no trouble putting away their most recent playoff adversaries.

Tonight, the Habs play a team against which they have a recent track record of success. In fact, it was only one week ago that the Canadiens earned a 4-1 victory against the Metro-leading Penguins, marking the capper of their impressive seven game run.

The only draw-back? Montreal employed one of their best-loved strategies, and let the Penguins run the even strength show for most of the game. With another crack at an Eastern contender this evening, the Habs will be looking not just for a win, but also for a solid performance across all facets of their game.

How to Watch

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In Canada (French): TVA
In Canada (English): CBC
In the Penguins Region: ROOT Sports
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistic Penguins
26-12-2 Record 24-10-6
8-2-0 L10 Record 4-4-2
49.3 Fenwick % (Within 1) 51.9
110 Goals For 120
Goals Against 97
1.27 5v5 Goal Ratio 1.23
14.2 PP% 21.5
85.6 PK% 87.9

Know Your Enemy

When the Habs took on the Penguins last Saturday, one of the predominant storylines was Pittsburgh's acquisition of David Perron. Down the recuperating Pascal Dupuis, and with a quality forward available at a very reasonable price, the Pens went out and bolstered support for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

The Penguins have played a schedule similarly sparse to Montreal's, interrupting a week-long break only to lose to the Boston Bruins on a controversial overtime goal. With that in mind, not much has changed as far as Pittsburgh's lineup. Wingers Patric Hornqvist and Blake Comeau remain out, as does defenceman Olli Maatta.

Pittsburgh's injured forwards left them with a fourth line composed of journeymen Craig Adams, Zach Sill, and Andrew Ebbett. The trio may lack star power, but the Penguins were able to roll four lines last weekend (a game that Sill did not play in). Tonight, we'll see if a Marc Bergevin adjustment can help to address that.

Last Time Out

The Habs wasted no time getting in front of their opponent seven days ago, striking twice within the game's first seven minutes. From there, they let Carey Price stand tall, handling all but a David Perron one-timer off an imperceptible Sidney Crosby pass.

The Canadiens took advantage of their eight minutes of powerplay time, and even though Crosby's boys carried the play at even strength, Montreal did manage a handful of decent scoring chances against Marc-Andre Fleury.

Ultimately, this game followed the formula of a lot of Montreal Canadiens games: take the lead, hand the reins to Carey Price, and wait for two points to roll in. As flawed as that well-worn approach may be, however, it does appear that Montreal has learned from at least one mistake made during that game.

Last Saturday's affair looks to have spelled the beginning of the end, at least for now, for Manny Malhotra. No Hab starts in the defensive zone more often than the faceoff-savvy veteran, and it's his yeoman's work in his team's zone that allows players like Tomas Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk to start more often with a territorial advantage.There's a difference between coping with a tough deployment and getting overrun. Performances like Malhotra's of January 3rd are difficult to excuse.

Malhotra got annihilated in his ten minutes of ice time, as the Habs allowed eighteen shot attempts (and put up zero in response) against second-tier competition from Mike Johnston's team. Similarly slaughtered against Tampa Bay, Marc Bergevin has responded by calling up Christian Thomas from the Hamilton Bulldogs. The move sets the stage for an all-youth fourth line of Thomas, Sven Andrighetto (who is likely to be the line's centre), and Michael Bournival, in what can be construed only as a direct acknowledgement of Cara Thorington's EOTP column from earlier this week.

Thomas may be unproven at the NHL level, but his pedigree and AHL play have earned him a chance to show what he can do at the highest level. While this type of roster move may not address the Habs' most pressing issues, it's encouraging to see adjustments where adjustments are due.

The goal in each game is always two points, but over a marathon regular season, process factors in alongside those results. The Habs got their win last time, but failed to outplay their opponent. Tonight, we'll find out if changing the lineup changes that result.