A night after reaching the top of the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins will be back on the ice trying to avoid handing that status to the streaking Montreal Canadiens.
If the result is anything like it’s been between the two teams over the last four seasons, the Penguins won’t have to worry about being passed by the visiting Canadiens on Saturday night.
The Penguins (24-9-5) joined the New York Islanders at the top of the East with Friday’s 6-3 win over Tampa Bay as Steve Downie announced his return with two goals after missing five games with the mumps.
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Downie has nine points in seven games, while Sidney Crosby broke out with four assists after a 12-game stretch during which he had five points. Chris Kunitz scored for a second straight game, and Evgeni Malkin’s goal and assist snapped a three-game streak without a point.
"We have guys coming back slowly and I think that gave us a boost," Crosby said. "As we get guys back, hopefully we can feed off that and continue to play the right way."
More forward help could come against the Canadiens (25-11-2), who have won five straight and eight of nine while limiting opponents to 12 goals.
David Perron could debut for the Penguins after being acquired Friday for Rob Klinkhammer and a 2015 first-round pick. Perron had career highs in goals (28) and points (57) a season ago but has failed to continue at that pace this season with five goals and 19 points in 38 games.
"At the stage I’m at in my career, I think the first few years you’re just happy to be in the league and to get more ice time and more opportunities. After a few years you just want to win," Perron told the league’s official website. "Obviously it’s not going to happen this year in Edmonton. It’s nice to get an opportunity in Pittsburgh and to have that kind of trust they did to acquire me."
Should Carey Price be in goal, Perron might have to wait on his first goal with his new team. Price made 22 saves in Friday’s 4-2 win in New Jersey, the 200th of his career, to help put Montreal in a position to complete a perfect five-game road trip and match its best winning streak of the season. The Canadiens are a point back of the Penguins and Islanders.
Price has won four straight starts and hasn’t allowed more than two goals in a game over a 7-1-0 span during which he has a 1.38 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.
"It’s a lot of fun to be able to accomplish that tonight,” Price said of win No. 200. "There have been ups and downs along the way, but to finally get this means a lot. The organization will do a nice job and put the puck on a plaque. It’s just fun right now to come to the rink, and play with these guys."
It’s been a very different story against Pittsburgh. Price has a 4.20 GAA over a 1-4-1 span.
That includes the Penguins’ 4-0 win in Montreal on Nov. 18 as Pittsburgh improved to 8-1-2 in the series with 3.91 goals per game since the start of the 2011-12 season.
Montreal backup Dustin Tokarski has never faced the Penguins.
Marc-Andre Fleury will start for Pittsburgh after getting the night off against Tampa Bay. Fleury had a 1.25 GAA in eight home starts in December, and he made 27 saves in the November shutout of the Canadiens to improve to 7-1-2 in his past 10 starts in the series.