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.