How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Penguins region: ATTSN-PT
Streaming: NHL.tv/NHL Live
The Canadiens went deep into the well on Friday night, somehow finding the energy to overpower the New York Rangers in the latter half of the third period in what was their fifth game in seven days. Settling into a back-and-forth contest for much of the night, that late push earned them the two points to temporarily restore them to second place in the Atlantic Division. Other clubs have passed as they’ve remained idle for a few days, but with the eight-game losing streak behind them, they’re now right back in the mix for a playoff seed with about two-thirds of the season remaining.
It was encouraging that the Habs had put a poor start the night before behind them. The defence did little to ease Cayden Primeau into his first NHL start, allowing some quality chances that the rookie netminder couldn’t stop. It seemed that the lack of engagement from the blue-liners that had featured in their long slump would continue after one solid outing finally placed the team back in the win column, but a much better effort all around, from the defencemen and Carey Price backing them up, suggests the issues are being resolved.
That’s an important development given tonight’s opponent. The Pittsburgh Penguins, despite playing the last month without Sidney Crosby, rank as the sixth-best team in the NHL in goals per game.
Tale of the Tape
|2-1-0||H2H Record (18-19)||1-1-1|
|54.2% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||53.5% (3rd)|
|3.17 (11th)||Goals per game||3.40 (6th)|
|3.37 (28th)||Goals against per game||2.70 (8th)|
|19.0% (15th)||PP%||16.1% (23rd)|
|75.5% (28th)||PK%||81.9% (14th)|
Before he was forced off the ice by a lower-body injury, Crosby was leading the team with 17 points in 17 games. With him out of the lineup, Evgeni Malkin stepped up after a disappointing start, registering 20 points in the 13 games his captain has missed. Jake Guentzel has continued to produce, and is on pace for a second consecutive 40-goal season as the team’s top winger. Contributions throughout the lineup (which hasn’t often been a luxury for the club in the Crosby-Malkin era) has kept them right in the hunt.
Just as impressive is the team’s defensive play. After two seasons of allowing nearly three goals per game, that mark is currently sitting at 2.70, ranking eighth in the NHL. That stout defensive play combined with offence from all areas of the lineup has led to the fourth-best goal differential in the league, not far behind the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, and Colorado Avalanche — all teams in Stanley Cup contention in 2019-20. There plenty of room for error if the goal-scoring begins to dry up, or opposing teams begin to find more success on offence.
When the Vegas Golden Knights joined the league two seasons ago, the main story among the other 30 teams in the NHL was the goaltending situation in Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury, the first overall selection in 2003, had been having his difficulties in post-season play, and their most recent Cup win was guided by Matt Murray. The team decided to part with Fleury in the expansion draft, and hand the reins to Murray going forward.
Things haven’t exactly gone according to that plan. After posting a .923 save percentage during the regular season ahead of the championship in 2017, Murray had a mark of .907 the next year, rebounded with a .919 save percentage in 2018-19, and then has dropped below .900 through 21 starts this year. Fleury’s worst with Golden Knights was a .913 performance last season, taking his new team to the Stanley Cup Final in the club’s inaugural campaign.
In the past few weeks, the Penguins have been using more of a tandem system, with Tristan Jarry getting just as many starts since the middle of November. Jarry has won six of his last seven appearances, including one after coming on in relief after Murray had allowed four goals to the Vancouver Canucks on November 27.
Jarry was recognized for his strong efforts yesterday, capturing the NHL’s second star of the week honours after back-to-back shutout victories. Given that Murray allowed three goals versus the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, you can probably expect Jarry to get the call tonight to see if he can keep his incredible run going.
To find offence, Montreal has been relying on volume from the high-danger areas to make up for a lack of finishing ability, best displayed in a 40-shot performance versus the New York Islanders. It’s not going to be easy to test the Penguins’ netminder that often because the team is averaging a mere 29.4 shots against per contest. The Canadiens will have to make the Penguins play an unfamiliar game if they hope to outscore them.