In a battle of the two top teams in the Eastern Conference, the Montreal Canadiens visited the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy Center. It marked the return of Michel Therrien, coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins for 136 games between 2005 and 2009. Despite having a defence that he memorably described as soff, Therrien coached the Sidney Crosby-led squad to the Stanley Cup Finals where they would lose to Detroit in 6 games. Therrien has, in retrospect, been credited with instilling a lot of the discipline in a Penguins squad that would go on to win the Stanley Cup the next season under Dan Bylsma, and was lauded for his work with young, talented rookies. Several ‘welcome back Therrien’ type signs were in the crowd, like this one, and RDS mentioned that some of the Pittsburgh executives visited Therrien before the game. You might also recall several articles over the summer about how Sidney Crosby was one of the first to call to congratulate Therrien after his hiring.
With the work Therrien has done this season, with the success of the rookies in the lineup in particular in mind, the Montreal Canadiens arrived in Pittsburgh to take on a team that hadn’t lost yet in March. The Canadiens were coming off a week bookended with 2 losses to Buffalo, but were 3-1-1 in their last 5 overall. The Penguins were coming off a win against the Philadelphia Flyers and are 5-0-0 in their last 5 games while having compiled a 12 game winning streak. Interestingly, the Penguins had won their last 9 games at home, and beating the Canadiens would get them tied with the second longest home winning streak in franchise history. Against the Canadiens, the Penguins have had a net advantage in recent history, having gone 10-3-2 in their last 15 games against the Canadiens, including 3-1 in their last 4 games. It’s also worth noting that their current 12 game winning streak began with a wild 7-6 overtime victory against these very same Canadiens back on March 2nd.
The game began with promise for the Canadiens. No scoring for either team, but at least two grade-A chances for Michael Ryder in the first part of the period that hit the post and crossbar. Marc-Andre Fleury bobbled the puck on several chances, and probably none better the the one just a few seconds into the game. The Canadiens outshot the Penguins 10-5. The second was more of the same, though the Penguins started to gain a little momentum. It was a well-played game between both sides, with very few whistles and an excellent pace to the game. The second saw a gorgeous Sidney Crosby goal off a seeing eye shot from Chris Kunitz and Brooks Orpik. It was all the Penguins needed, and they would go on to shutout the Canadiens 1-0. The Canadiens would press for a goal for pretty much the entire 60 minutes but couldn’t get one past either Marc-Andre Fleury or Tomas Vokoun. They had an excellent opportunity when Marc-Andre Fleury left the game after Tyler Kennedy crashed into him, but Vokoun was sharp coming off the bench. All in all, the Canadiens couldn’t cash in on some glorious chances and the Penguins got some help from their posts to get their 13th straight win. For the second game straight the Canadiens would outshoot their opponent, this time 37-25 but unable to get a win to show for it. The Canadiens are now 7 points behind the Penguins for 2nd place in the conference, and can look towards to another tough battle against their arch-nemesis Boston Bruins tomorrow evening.
My 3 Stars of the Game:
1. Tomas Plekanec: His statline full of zeros wouldn’t give you the full story of how well he (and his line) played. For the first 2 period, a chance was created on almost every shift. Had two big opportunities in the third to tie it up, but the bounces didn’t go his way tonight. The only Hab that put together enough of an effort to get a star.
2. Sidney Crosby: He must love playing the Habs. Another gorgeous goal, and a game-winner to boot.
What’s next? Check back with us tomorrow for a huge game between the Canadiens and the Bruins. Both tied in points and the Bruins no longer have any games in hand. Big one tomorrow that can go a long way in determining who wins the division. They face off tomorrow at 7:30 pm.