Penguins prepare to Canadiens
In their season-opening games, the Pittsburgh Penguins won in overtime but thought there was a fair amount of room for improvement and the Montreal Canadiens lost in overtime but were encouraged by what they thought was a strong performance.
That sets an interesting stage for the matchup on Saturday at PPG Paints Arena.
“I’m disappointed in the loss — you always think you could have, should have won the game — but I’m not disappointed in the effort we put out,” Montreal coach Claude Julien said of a 3-2 loss to Toronto.
“If we keep putting out the same effort and improve in certain areas where we didn’t do as well, there’s no doubt that if we play as well as we did, we’re going to give ourselves a chance every night.”
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan put his club’s chances a little lower in a similar scenario after a last-one-out-turn-off-the-lights 7-6 win over defending Stanley Cup champion Washington.
“We were pleased with the results of the game, but if we played that game 10 times over, we’d win five and lose five,” Sullivan said of trading chances at a rapid rate. “That’s not a formula for success.”
Pittsburgh swept all three games against the Canadiens last season, scoring five goals in each game.
While the Penguins retain a core of players and a high-paced philosophy that helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2016 and ’17, the Canadiens are looking for a new direction.
Against the Maple Leafs, the Canadiens made veterans Tomas Plekanec and Carl Alzner healthy scratches in favor of a younger, speedy lineup. That included Jesperi Kotkaniemi, an 18-year-old center who made his NHL debut and played 15 minutes.
“I don’t think he looked out of place,” Julien said of Kotkaniemi. “If you want to win hockey games, you have to put players on the ice who are capable of making plays, and he’s one of them.”
Not to mention players with wheels.
“We used that speed, especially on the forecheck, to take time and speed away from (Toronto),” Canadiens goaltender Carey Price said, according to the Montreal Gazette.
Pittsburgh is expecting more of the same from the Canadiens.
“They’re going to be a young, fast team, and those are teams that you can get trapped with,” Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. “You can take them lightly and get into a track meet and they can end up beating you. They’re definitely a team we’re not taking lightly. They had a great game against Toronto.
“It’s a speed game right now. If you can’t adapt to that style, you’re going to have a tough time playing (against them). You’ve always got to be aware of speed.”
The Penguins should know. That’s the style they play, and it could be argued they started the trend that a lot of teams are following.
They find themselves trying the same tactics — taking away shooting lanes, playing in opponents’ faces — that teams have been trying to use against them.
“We see it, too, and it’s frustrating,” Dumoulin said. “But I think a lot of teams are going with that style.”