With the NHL season nearly 20% complete, a small group of elite teams have emerged at the top of the standings. Only four squads, league-wide, have managed double-digit wins prior to Tuesday's games, and their strong play has already gone a long way toward cementing their respective playoff aspirations.
The New York Rangers, with 22 points, are current holding up the ceiling in the Metropolitan division. The Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues, meanwhile, are battling for supremacy in a highly-contentious Central division.
The Montreal Canadiens are the fourth member of that quartet of teams with 10 wins plus, and tonight they'll look to claim a league-leading fourteenth victory. If they're to manage the feat, however, they'll have to get a second win over a team trying to desperately to keep their own hot streak going.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:30 PM ET
In the Canadiens region (French): RDS
In the Canadiens region (English): Sportsnet
In the United States: NBCSN
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|53.0||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||49.3|
|1.78||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.17|
Know Your Enemy
The Pittsburgh Penguins had a difficult time living up to immense preseason expectations in the season's early going, and their previous loss to the Habs was the culmination of a three game, season-opening losing streak. A lot has changed in Pittsburgh since then, though, and 11 games later, the Penguins are back with a vengeance.
Having earned 18 of a possible 22 points over that 11-game span, Mike Johnston's crew has vaulted themselves to within four points of the Rangers. While their recent success more closely matches the summer prognostications surrounding the team, the basis of their success appears reminiscent of last year's Habs.
Their forward group, while laden with talent, has struggled to produce. Their paltry goal rate of 1.8/60 minutes ranks 22nd in the league, and puts them just one goal clear of the intimidating offence of the Toronto Maple Leafs. No Penguin ranks in the top-65 in league scoring, and nine Canadiens have as many or more points as Pittsburgh scoring leader Evgeni Malkin.
With the forwards still finding their footing, and the defence looking positively porous, it's been up to Marc-Andre Fleury to act as the equalizer. If the Penguins are to take down the league's top team tonight, they'll need their oft-maligned keeper on top of his game.
Last Time Out
Fleury was solid last time out, but it wasn't enough to get his team the win. His strong play ensured that the Canadiens held just a 1-0 lead after a dominant first period, beaten only by a deceptively difficult Max Pacioretty wrist shot from high in the offensive zone.
Beau Bennett would tie the game on a transition play that ended with a wrister past Carey Price, but Pacioretty would put the Habs out in front again when he stepped off the side boards and beat Fleury for the second time.
Next came a Kris Letang pinball goal, as his wrist shot from the top of the circles pinged off a net-front obstacle and past Price. The final frame was back-and-forth, and characterized by mostly even play, but Tomas Fleischmann played the hero in end.
David Desharnais jarred the puck free at the Montreal blue-line, and it caromed toward Dale Weise. When Weise's breakaway pass floated past Desharnais, however, the Pittsburgh defence relented in their urgent retreat.
Undeterred, Desharnais raced to collect the puck behind the Pittsburgh goal-line, and with defensive coverage slanted toward a net-charging Weise, the Habs' third line centre put the puck on the stick of Fleischmann. Hung out to dry by his teammates, Fleury was powerless to stop Fleischmann from claiming two points for his team.
Of course, none of this means the Canadiens should expect an easy outing. While Pittsburgh has been outscored at times even while enjoying success in the standings, and their overall possession numbers are poor, the Penguins are on a recent, strong upward trajectory in that department.
If stronger play overall is a harbinger of greater offence to come, the Penguins may become just the terrifying force they were expected to be five weeks ago.