Following a disappointing effort against the Flyers on Tuesday, Michel Therrien hinted that it was time for certain players to begin to carry their weight. Heading into Wednesday's clash with the Devils, he took that statement one step further.
Tomas Fleischmann was sent to the press box, clearing the way for the middle-six to be revamped. Given Fleischmann's contributions in his Canadiens career to-date, it's unlikely that his demotion is permanent. The retooled roster did make some convincing strides, however.
The bottom-six was excellent, with glowing possession numbers across the board. The first line, meanwhile, chipped in on offence while pushing the play more efficiently than any other skaters. Even the newly-assembled kid line of Alex Galchenyuk, Daniel Carr, and Sven Andrighetto held their own, outside of an unfavourable match-up with New Jersey's top line.
However the bottom lines are oriented on Saturday night, the Canadiens will need a similar effort from those six forwards. Playing a team whose all-world stars are finally starting to come into their own, it may just be the key to victory.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:00 PM ET
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In Canada (English): Sportsnet
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Tale of the Tape
|53.5||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||49.8|
|1.07||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.9|
Know Your Enemy
The Pittsburgh Penguins are a different team when Sidney Crosby is playing at his dominating best. After a slow start to 2015-16, it looks like that's beginning to happen.
Crosby, flanked recently by David Perron and old running mate Chris Kunitz, has put up some fantastic numbers since just before the 30-game mark. Coinciding nicely with the installation of Kunitz as a permanent fixture to his right, Sid the Kid has been on a steady upward trajectory toward the possession numbers we're used to seeing from him. Even better, for a Pittsburgh team confoundingly short on goals, Crosby's points/60 are increasing as well, removing him from one of the driest periods of his outstanding career.
Even more importantly, perhaps, the Penguins seem to have resolved the first pairing D problem that haunted them early in the season. Kris Letang and Ian Cole are now on opposite poles, playing less than 1% of Pittsburgh's last ten games together. In Cole's place is Olli Maatta, and the pair have been a force. In about seven games worth of ice time together, the pair have commanded over 57% of shot attempts for. That number stands in stark contrast to the ~45% mark that the Pens' original first pair put together.
So, with the Pittsburgh's big guns finally firing in unison, what are the Habs to do? Look no further than the Chicago Blackhawks recipe, which earned them a home-and-home sweep over the Pennsylvanian squad.
Pittsburgh's big names played well, but their bottom six was eviscerated by one of the NHL's best teams. The Penguins' third and fourth lines were alternately asked to keep Patrick Kane at bay, or gain an advantage over the Chicago's lower-end players. They were mostly unsuccessful in both tasks, and the resultant pressure on the top-six was too much to bear: the Penguins picked up only one of four available points.
Last Time Out
The Penguins have earned two points again the Habs so far this season, picking up a shootout victory last time out after giving up the season series-opener. The Canadiens mostly dominated the proceedings, but after giving up a goal to Pascal Dupuis just 13 seconds in, they were forced to fight back.
Andrei Markov was up to the task, thankfully, drilling home a powerplay one-timer to even the score only minutes later. Pittsburgh would then strike next, with Phil Kessel using his patented release to blitz a shot past Condon in traffic.
Again, the Canadiens would equalize, with Brendan Gallagher streaking in alongside Tomas Plekanec on a two-on-one. The sorely missed third piece of the first line made no mistake, ignoring a diving Dupuis before going top shelf on Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Habs would then get their only lead of the contest, courtesy of a Brian Flynn shot off the rush. The weak-but-tricky wrister slipped past Fleury's elbow for a 3-2 lead, but the Canadiens failed to make it hold up. Patric Hornqvist ripped home the game-tying goal in the waning moments, setting up Pittsburgh's triumph in the shootout.
The fourth line offence is instructive, however, as the Canadiens will need it again tonight. With Pittsburgh's finest ready to compete, the Habs leaders will have their hands full. As the Blackhawks demonstrated twice this week, a full team effort is the key to taking down the Pens.