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Canadiens @ Penguins: Game preview, start time, Tale of the Tape, and how to watch

Montreal will be better prepared for another desperate opponent.

Montreal Canadiens v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Montreal Canadiens @ Pittsburgh Penguins

How to watch

Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Penguins region: ATTSN Pittsburgh
Streaming: ESPN+, RDS Direct, TSN+

The Montreal Canadiens didn’t seem to be aware of the Colorado Avalanche’s situation, a precarious hold on the final wild-card spot in the west, when they hosted the reigning Stanley Cup champion last night. The Habs were swarmed early in the game, and before they could get their bearings, they had given up three goals in the opening eight minutes.

Montreal did inject a brief moment of life into the game in the third period, scoring two goals in quick succession to make it at least a respectable 7-4 score, but gave up one more before the final horn in what was overall a rare poor showing since the bye week.

The players had been keeping their spirits high through this losing streak knowing they had put in some impressive performances early on, but last night’s scoreline seemed to get them down. A competitive group isn’t happy with being the second-best team at the end of each night, a streak that has reached seven games, and wants the positive emotion that comes with an actual victory.

In their second game in two nights, the Canadiens are faced with a similar situation. They’ll be taking to the ice versus a Pittsburgh Penguins club not at all secure in the first wild-card place in the Eastern Conference.

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistics Penguins
Canadiens Statistics Penguins
26-35-6 Record 34-22-10
43.8% (29th) Scoring-chances-for % 51.6% (13th)
2.39 (28th) Goals per game 3.27 (13th)
3.61 (27th) Goals against per game 3.17 (16th)
16.1% (30th) PP% 21.4% (17th)
72.9% (31st) PK% 79.7% (15th)
2-0-0 H2H Record 0-0-2

If they can’t hold on, it would be the first time since Sidney Crosby’s rookie season that the Penguins failed to make the playoffs — unless you count the Canadiens knocking them out in the qualification round in 2020 that was done in response to a COVID-shortened season. Even if you allow that one to stand, their recent post-season appearances haven’t amounted to much, failing to get past the first opponent they’ve faced in each of the last four years.

It’s a situation nearly identical to what the Washington Capitals are currently going through at the end of their long streak of contention; four consecutive first-round exits. That particular story is looking more and more likely to end without a playoff chapter for 2022-23.

In the past week or two, the situation has gotten a bit clearer for the Penguins. Some of the upstarts in the east — the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, and a rebuilt Detroit Red Wings team that saw this same pattern after years as a top team — have crumbled under the late-season pressure and fallen off the pace. A short winning streak can still launch one of those teams back into the race, but right now the biggest threat to the Penguins’ position is the Florida Panthers.

You can’t put any of the blame for this current situation on captain Sidney Crosby. He’s already reached 80 points on the season with a shot at hitting 100 for the seventh time. He also leads the team in goals as a good portion of the offence comes off his own stick.

Evgeni Malkin is 10 points back, and Jake Guentzel is two goals off Crosby’s pace, so they’re doing their part as well. After suffering a stroke earlier this season, it’s amazing that Kris Letang is playing at all, let alone contributing 31 points in 48 games.

The team expected more from Bryan Rust in the first season of a new six-year deal than 37 points and a -7 rating. Increasingly, Jeff Carter is a source of frustration for Penguins fans, perhaps not so much because of his play, but because the 38-year-old is a member of the team at all — with one more season to go.

There was surely more of an expectation for Jeff Petry, who was traded for a steadily performing Mike Matheson in the off-season. Petry was a reliable source of 40 points in Montreal before a familial situation took his attention for much of last season. In Pittsburgh, he has just 26 points in 50 games; Matheson is up to 20 in 33 despite two long stints on Injured Reserve.

Matheson seems happy enough to be leading a young blue-line corps on a Habs team working its way back to a competitive level, but he’ll still want to prove to his former team that trading him away was a mistake. There have been plenty of times since his second return to action this season that he’s taken over the play with his skill. He wasn’t healthy for either game versus Pittsburgh early in the season, both overtime wins for Montreal. In what will therefore be his first game versus his former team, he could be the most vocal person in the Habs room to motivate the group to a season-series sweep, and a first win in the month of March.