How to watch
On Wednesday, the Canadiens walked into Scotiabank Arena, stared down Auston Matthews and John Tavares, and walked out with a well-earned point after having deserved much better.
But, as the saying goes, “out of the frying pan, into the fire.” The Canadiens now head to Pittsburgh to face-off against another elite centre duo — Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Unsurprisingly, the Habs will be underdogs again for this matchup. Especially after Pittsburgh swept last year’s season series in convincing fashion, scoring five goals in all three games. But Wednesday night proved that these are not last year’s Habs, and even if they go down to the team that has won two Stanley Cups in the last three years, Claude Julien will aim to have them go down fighting.
Tale of the Tape
|0-3-0||H2H Record (17-18)||3-0-0|
The Penguins saw their reign as Stanley Cup champions come to an end by Evgeny Kuznetsov’s overtime winner in Game 6 of the second round last season. They managed to exert some small measure of payback in their season opener after a barn-burning 7-6 overtime triumph over those very same Washington Capitals. Their roster is more or less the same as last year, with the one notable exception being the controversial addition of defenceman Jack Johnson.
The Penguins lean very heavily on their top two lines of Jake Guentzel-Crosby-Patrik Hornqvist and Carl Hagelin-Malkin-Phil Kessel. Defensively, Kris Letang and Justin Schultz are two of the better puck-moving blueliners in the game, while Brian Dumoulin provides stability. Matt Murray is coming off a less-than-impressive performance against the Capitals, allowing six goals on 36 shots (and three in the first four faced), but easily has the pedigree and potential to steal any game.
Just as against Toronto, staying out of the penalty box will be imperative for the Montreal Canadiens as the Penguins can rival, if not surpass, the top power-play unit of the Maple Leafs with their own quintet of Crosby-Malkin-Kessel-Hornqvist-Letang. It’ll also be interesting to see if Julien keeps his lineup the same, or opts for a more conservative approach by slotting Tomas Plekanec and Karl Alzner back in. If Friday’s practice is any indication, the Habs bench boss will stay with the same lineup that faced Toronto.
Finally, Jesperi Kotkaniemi showed that he could compete against the league’s best centres in his debut, holding Nazem Kadri and Auston Matthews’s lines to a single shot on goal each. If he’s going to take a regular shift tonight, he’ll likely get a steady dose of Crosby and Malkin. Jonathan Drouin and Joel Armia will also need to bring their A-game in support of the franchise’s newest hope lest the Canadiens be overrun on the flanks.
Opening the season with two road games against the league’s elite is a tall order, but the Canadiens passed the first half of this test with flying colours. Let’s see if they can build on that momentum at the PPG Paints Arena on Saturday night.