As many of us get set to ring in the new year, the Canadiens will instead be focused on one of their toughest tests of 2016 - slowing down the reigning Stanley Cup Champions.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been one of the NHL’s most dominant teams in the month of December, winning 11 games since the first of the month while dropping only three - two of those losses coming in overtime.
On the other hand, its been a turbulent time in Montreal as the club is starting to face some adversity for, really, the first time this season. Fortunately, they’ve built up a cushion in the standings, but with injuries catching up to them, the Habs will want to start finding the win column consistently once again, and fast.
Of course, the Canadiens are coming off an overtime win in Florida that they will hope revitalizes the team. With three games left on this road trip, a win tonight in Pittsburgh could do a lot to set the tone for the remainder of the voyage.
How to watch
Puck drop: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: CBC (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the United States: ROOT
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Gamecenter Live, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|53.65||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||51.27|
|1.53||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.24|
No team has been more dangerous than the Penguins over the course of the season, as they lead the league in goals for in all situations and at even strength. Sidney Crosby has led the way for the Pens, seemingly on a mission to prove he remains the best player in the game as he leads the league in both goals in points.
Crosby, however, is not Pittsburgh’s lone player producing at over a point-per-game, as Evgeni Malkin finds himself just one point behind, albeit in six more games. More surprising, perhaps, is the increased production of Phil Kessel who is very nearly on pace to tie his career-best 82 points.
With that being said, the Penguins have not been invulnerable. While they have gotten the upper hand in the majority of their games this year, the Penguins find themselves in the lower half of the league when it comes to goals allowed. Partly this is due to one of the league’s worst penalty-killing units, and a recent string of injuries to important defencemen will do them no favours.
The Penguins will be without Brian Dumoulin, while the status of Kris Letang and Olli Maatta remains unknown at this time. Equally important will be the absence of Matt Murray, who has been the better of the two Penguins’ goaltenders this season.
Murray went down to an injury on Wednesday night with Marc-Andre Fleury taking his place for the third period. Splitting starts this season, Murray has bested Fleury thus far, though it hasn’t been overly difficult as Fleury has put up a relatively low save percentage at .908.
Clearly there are areas of weakness that the Canadiens may attempt to target. The Penguins are not immune to conceding goals - the difficulty, instead, will stem from outscoring them in a game that could turn into a shootout.
These teams last met just days into the season, with the Habs coming up victorious in a 4-0 contest. A repeat of that performance is certainly not out of the question, but the Habs will undoubtedly need to be at the very top of their game to overcome the rolling Stanley Cup Champs.