Though the Pittsburgh Penguins generally have no equals in the Eastern Conference when it comes to regular-season success, the Montreal Canadiens have managed to outpace them so far.
The two surging division leaders meet for the first time this season Tuesday night.
The Penguins (12-3-1) have won nine of 10 after a 3-2 shootout victory over the New York Rangers on Saturday in which Evgeni Malkin scored his seventh goal and picked up his 12th assist.
"I like how we’re playing. We play fast," Malkin said. "We try to move the puck quick and go to the offensive zone. All four lines, we play at the same level – quick."
Malkin and others have helped carry the scoring load during Sidney Crosby’s surprising goal drought. With another scoreless outing Tuesday, Crosby will match his longest streak of nine games, set Dec. 3-20, 2012.
Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz rank among the NHL leaders in goals with nine and eight. Pascal Dupuis has contributed four goals during the last 10 games, but he’ll miss this game with an undisclosed injury.
Though Crosby hasn’t been scoring goals, he’s recorded 11 assists in the past eight contests. He has 15 goals and 20 assists in 25 career games against Montreal.
While Pittsburgh appears on its way to an eighth 100-point effort in the past nine full seasons, the Canadiens (14-4-1) have gotten out in front of them on the strength of a six-game winning streak marked by outstanding defensive play. They’ve given up one or no goals five times during the run.
Montreal has also raised its level of play on offense in the past three, scoring 15 goals. It’s coming off a 4-1 victory over Philadelphia on Saturday.
"Everyone’s buying in and everyone’s doing their job," said forward Brandon Prust, who along with P.K. Subban and Tomas Plekanec had a goal and assist apiece. "We’re not trying to do too much. We’re sticking to our strengths. We’re sticking to the game plan and it’s working. We’re not a team full of superstars. We’re just a lot of grit and guys that are working their butts off."
Subban has scored a goal in two straight games.
"We’re working hard and things are happening for us. I don’t think we’re getting fortunate bounces," he said. "A fortunate bounce is when you bounce one in from the red line. The bounces we’re getting are because we’re working hard and doing the things we need to do to get to the front of the net."
Montreal has lost four of six matchups with the Penguins but took the most recent one 6-5 in a shootout Feb. 27. Marc-Andre Fleury, who gave up five goals on 29 shots in that contest, will likely be in net Tuesday. He’s allowed at least three goals in three of his past four starts in the series.
Carey Price was rested Sunday and should be ready to go against a Pittsburgh team that has given him trouble. Price’s 3.03 goals-against average versus the Penguins is his second-worst mark against any opponent he’s faced more than seven times.
Olli Maatta will make his return for Pittsburgh. The 20-year-old defenseman underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his thyroid gland Nov. 4 and hasn’t played since Nov. 1.