Penguins-Canadiens Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 01, 2013
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.
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