Penguins-Canadiens Preview

While the Montreal Canadiens’ defense has led the way during
their hot stretch, they benefited from a scoring surge in their
latest victory.

That certainly isn’t a good sign for the visiting Pittsburgh
Penguins, who look to put an end to their recent defensive
struggles.

The Canadiens will try to make it 10 straight games without a
regulation loss on Saturday night while coach Michel Therrien faces
the team he led to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since
being fired four years ago.

Following a stretch of three consecutive losses last month,
Eastern Conference-leading Montreal (13-4-3) has put together a
7-0-2 record in its last nine games to move past Northeast Division
rival Boston.

With goalie Carey Price leading the way, the Canadiens have been
one of the NHL’s best defensive clubs, allowing 2.05 goals per
game. They’ve limited opponents to two goals or fewer in seven of
nine during their current tear.

Now, the Canadiens hope they’ve put it all together after an
offensive outburst keyed a 5-2 victory at Toronto on Wednesday.
Montreal, which entered the contest averaging 2.25 non-shootout
goals over its previous 12 games, finished with its second-best
scoring-effort of the season.

“Right from the get-go I thought our guys were ready to play,
and we set the tone,” Therrien said.

Therrien would love to see the Canadiens set the tone off the
bat again Saturday, when he’ll coach against the Penguins (13-8-0)
for the first time since being fired on Feb. 15, 2009. Therrien led
Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup finals just eight months earlier –
where it lost to Detroit – but the Penguins turned their season
around after his dismissal and won the Cup four months later.

“It’s going to be special. I’m not going to hide it,” Therrien
said. “I’ve got some great memories from my time in Pittsburgh, and
coached some guys that have great talent. They were young, they
were almost teenagers. They’re more mature now, and it’s a
challenge for any team in the league to play the Penguins.

Pittsburgh has a two-point lead over slumping New Jersey atop
the Atlantic despite back-to-back losses to open a three-game road
trip.

The Penguins allowed just 13 goals during a recent stretch of
six wins in seven road games, but have taken a step back
defensively following a 6-4 loss at Florida on Tuesday and 4-1
defeat at Carolina two days later.

Marc-Andre Fleury lost for the first time in five starts on
Thursday, but coach Dan Bylsma suggested his team hung its goalie
“out to dry.”

“You could throw a blanket over the area they scored four
goals,” defenseman Brooks Orpik added.

Fleury has a 3-0-1 record with a 2.38 goals-against average in
his last four starts against Montreal, winning two of those despite
allowing goals to Max Pacioretty. The winger is rolling heading
into this matchup after scoring twice on Wednesday to give himself
six goals in as many games.

Pittsburgh continues to play without Evgeni Malkin (concussion),
though the reigning MVP showed signs of improvement by skating on
Wednesday and Thursday.

Sidney Crosby has two goals and four assists in three games
without Malkin, but the Penguins’ shots have decreased. They
averaged 30.9 shots in the 18 games Malkin has played but have been
held to 27.7 per game since he’s been out.

Crosby hasn’t scored a goal in his last eight regular-season
games in Montreal, though he has seven assists.

Price is tied for the league lead with 11 wins, but Pittsburgh
has beaten him in three of his last five starts in the series. Two
of those Penguins victories came last season, when they took three
of four from the Canadiens.