Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: Sportsnet East, Ontario, Pacific, 360 (English), TVA (French)
In the Penguins region: AT&T SportsNet - Pittsburgh
Elsewhere: NHL.tv / Rogers NHL Live
After an incredibly lethargic first half where superlative play from Carey Price kept the Canadiens within striking distance, the Canadiens began to turn the screw in the latter half of the second frame.
Their first concerted offensive push of the game resulted in a Brendan Gallagher equalizer off a Tomas Tatar feed. Then Jeff Petry showed his veteran savvy by prematurely terminating a potentially momentum-crushing man advantage by taking an interference minor 22 seconds into the power play. The Canadiens rewarded Petry’s genius by dominating the ensuing four-on-four, and Joel Armia notched the go-ahead goal a mere 12 seconds after his defenceman stepped out of the penalty box. Two more goals in the third period from Armia would prove to be enough, as the Canadiens withstood a late Ranger push to emerge with a 4-2 victory.
Tale of the Tape
|53.8% (4th)||Corsi-for pct.||49.4% (16th)|
|3.05 (12th)||Goals per game||3.44 (5th)|
|2.89 (13th)||Goals against per game||3.11 (19th)|
|12.6% (30th)||PP%||25.0 (6th)|
|80.3% (14th)||PK%||79.8% (20th)|
After ripping off a stellar December (11-3-1), a lukewarm 2019 thus far (12-10-3) sees the Pittsburgh Penguins in an unfamiliar position as the calendar ticks over into March. Sitting outside of a wild-card position, tied in points with the Carolina Hurricanes but with one more game played, the Pens are at risk of missing the playoffs for the first time since Sidney Crosby’s rookie campaign in 2005-06. Moreover, the team has only finished lower than second in the division once in the 12 seasons since that last miss.
As expected from a team with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel, the fortunes of the Penguins are largely driven by their stars. Their big guns have not disappointed, with all three above a point-per-game pace on the season. Add in Jake Guentzel’s 56 points in 64 games, and one could be forgiven for wondering just how the Pens find themselves in their current predicament.
Beyond these four, the offensive output drops off precipitously. Only three additional Penguins have more than 10 goals on the season, and only one additional forward — Patrik Hornqvist — exceeds 0.5 points per game.
General manager Jim Rutherford attempted to address this issue by acquiring Nick Bjugstad and Tanner Pearson, but Bjugstad’s start has been halting (3G, 3A in 14 GP) while Pearson mustered just 14 points in 44 games before being dealt again. The only recourse left for head coach Mike Sullivan is to continue to lean heavily his big four up front, all of whom play more per game than Phillip Danault, the leader in TOI per game among Habs forwards.
The Penguins also head into Montreal with a severely depleted blue line, as demonstrated by the sextet — Justin Schultz, Jack Johnson, Marcus Pettersson, Erik Gudbranson, Juuso Riikola, and Zach Trotman — that hit the ice Friday night in Buffalo. In particular, adding Gudbranson, who ranked 229th of 238 NHL defencemen who have played more than 200 minutes this season in on-ice goals-for percentage as of Friday night to a blue line currently led by Johnson (158th) and the recently returned Schultz is an interesting move in response to the loss of Kris Letang (52nd) and Brian Dumoulin (14th). Only time will tell if Rutherford’s desperation will pay off.
While expectations would normally be low for a Canadiens team still playing with house money against one of the historically elite teams of the NHL, this wounded Penguins team, coming off of a stinging 4-3 overtime defeat against the Buffalo Sabres, can be overcome. The Habs may never have a more favourable matchup and a better opportunity to put distance between themselves and a dangerous rival in the wild-card hunt than this critical game, at home, on Hockey Night in Canada.