Who: Montreal Canadiens (6-20-3, 15 points, last place Atlantic division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (14-8-5, 33 points, 4th place Metropolitan division)
When: 7:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet for the local feed, TSN2/RDS north of the border, ESPN+
Opponent Track: Since winning 6-3 a couple Saturday night’s ago in Pittsburgh on November 27th, Montreal is 0-6-1 and has fired their GM. So, yeah, it hasn’t been going great for a team headed for a dreadful 2021-22 that could rank among the worst ever in the storied history of the Canadiens.
Pens path ahead: The Pens’ schedule sucked from about mid-November to early-December. Lots of travel, long trips, road games, not much rest in between. The schedule has broken favorably, Pittsburgh doesn’t play again after tonight until Friday, when they’ll host Buffalo. Next week pre-Christmas is light too in terms of games and difficulties, with a schedule of @NJD on Sunday, then home for the Devils next Tuesday (12/21) and then hosting Philadelphia on Thursday 12/23 before three days off over the holiday weekend.
Season Series: This is already the third and final PIT/MTL game of the season. The Penguins took the first game 6-0 in Montreal on November 18th, a game looking increasingly like the turning point for the Pens’ whole season (Pittsburgh is 9-2-1 including and since that game). But one of those two regulation losses in the stretch came to the Canadiens, as mentioned above, when Montreal won 6-3 in the second game between these teams.
Random fact: Only Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (9) has more goals so far this season against Atlantic Division opponents than Evan Rodrigues (7). (h/t Pens PR)
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out the authority on all things Montreal, Habs Eyes on the Prize, for news to know about the Canadiens.
—Can I say no one? Because no one is really feeling that great or doing well when the team is 0-6-1 and finding new lows every game. Tyler Toffoli was a lone bright spot (1G+4A in four games since Nov. 27th) but now he’s hurt and out for two months after hand surgery.
—One player the Pens will be smarting to see is Jake Allen, who stopped 47/50 shots against them in that 11/27 game and is pretty much the reason Montreal won. That was a 3-1 MTL lead late in the game, before the Pens pulled their goalie and scored two 5v6 goals. The Canadiens tacked on three empty netters to seal the deal. Allen is actually doing OK with a .919 save% since Nov 27, he is also averaging seeing 36.8 shots per game, so he’s definitely having a ton of work and having to do all he can just to hold the team in right now.
—Pretty much everyone. Mike Hoffman didn’t play the last game against the Pens but has 0G+1A in four games since returning from an injury. Josh Anderson was out of the lineup too and only has 0G+0A in just two games in the last two weeks. Nick Suzuki, with two goals, is the only player on the team with more than 1G in the last six games.
—The other big problem for Montreal is that as you’ll see below, there’s probably as much talent injured, sick or unavaialble as there is in the healthy playing lineup right now, which makes a tough climb even tougher right now.
“A really dangerous avenue to go down”
That’s what veteran goalie Jake Allen said about what happens to a team when losing becomes routine and accepted. Allen had more in the Montreal Gazette:
But goalie Jake Allen is a true professional and he was there to answer questions after Saturday night’s 4-1 to the Blues in St. Louis that dropped the Canadiens’ record to 6-20-3 and extended their winless streak to six games (0-5-1).
“It’s just a little bit frustrating for our group right now,” Allen said after allowing four goals on 37 shots and once again not getting much help from his teammates. “It’s tough. We’re obviously not playing very good hockey and we’re facing a lot of hills. We’re climbing a lot of hills right now and we got to start moving our way up that hill a little bit more in this upcoming schedule here before Christmas to gain some steam.”
The Canadiens have six more games before Christmas and four of them are on the road, where they have a 2-10-2 record.
“We need more from everyone,” said Allen, who saw his record fall to 5-14-2 with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage. “This is an opportunity right now for a lot of these young guys to come in and showcase, and this is their chance. That’s the way I look at it as well, even though I’ve played 350 games. I still look at this as an opportunity for myself. That’s the way I see it and I want those guys in that locker room to see it that way, too.
Monday Practice Lines
Mike Hoffman - Nick Suzuki - Mathieu Perreault
Jonathan Drouin - Jake Evans - Joel Armia
Artturi Lehkonen - Ryan Poehling - Cole Caufield
Michael Pezzetta / Jesse Ylonen/ Cedric Paquette / Laruent Dauphin (rotation)
Ben Chiarot / David Savard
Brett Kulak / Kale Clague
Alexander Romanov / Chris Wideman
Possible Starting Goalie: Jake Allen (Samuel Montembeault backup)
Scratches: Corey Schueneman, one of the forwards above from the fourth line
COVID Protocol: Brendan Gallagher, Sami Niku
NHLPA Player Assistance Program: Carey Price
IR: Shea Weber (LTIR), Paul Byron (LTIR) Joel Edmundson, Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson, Jeff Petry
—Petry skated yesterday in practice on a reserve line, but isn’t expected to be activated for this game. Montreal sounded hopeful that Gallagher and Niku will get out of protocol to play on Saturday, so reinforcements are on the way but aren’t coming for this game.
And now for the Pens..
Monday Practice Lines
Kasperi Kapanen - Sidney Crosby - Evan Rodrigues
Jason Zucker - Jeff Carter - Danton Heinen
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brock McGinn
Drew O’Connor - Brian Boyle - Dominik Simon
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Mike Matheson / Chad Ruhwedel
Possible Starting Goalie: Tristan Jarry (Casey DeSmith backup)
Scratches: Mark Friedman, Sam Lafferty
IR: Evgeni Malkin (knee), Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel
—The Pens got Guentzel and Rust on the ice before the team practiced yesterday. Guentzel was moved to the IR in a procedural move, no big deal since that’s only a seven day window to miss that started last week. There was no real update on either, but clearly a favorable step in their rehabs to get back on their skates and go for a twirl.
—Malkin also got some time on the ice, including on a power play drill with the second group, marking the first time he’s worked with teammates in that capacity during his rehab process. Malkin was still in a no-contact jersey. The unannounced but rumored/anticipated time for Malkin to return to the lineup around Christmas still is looking pretty good as he is ever so slowly but steadily is going forward through his return process.
—Otherwise, lines on Monday were as they have been over the weekend for the Pens, who were off on Sunday.
Sidney Crosby has been in a groove lately and is about to join another exclusive club. With his next 2+ point game, Crosby will become just the 14th NHL player with 400 career multi-point games under his belt. From the Pens PR team:
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby enters tonight’s game with 399 career multi-point efforts, and is one such instance shy of becoming 14th player in NHL history to accumulate 400 multi-point performances.
Of the 13 players to accomplish this feat, 12 of them are enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame, with Jaromir Jagr being the lone exception (not yet eligible). Additionally, four of the 13 players – Jagr, Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis and Paul Coffey played for the Penguins at some point in their careers. The other players to accomplish this feat are Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Marcel Dionne, Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Phil Esposito, Ray Bourque and Stan Mikita.
This season, Crosby has picked up two or more points in 26.7% of his games this season (4/15).
Any time you can join a club where there are only 13 members, 12 of which are in the Hall of Fame and the 13th is Jagr who just won’t stop playing — that’s pretty great company!
Milestones and streak watches
- With an appearance in the game tonight, Danton Heinen notches career game No. 300. Heinen will be the 19th member of the 2014 draft class to get to this level, and the former fourth round pick will be just the sixth member of the class taken after the first round to get to this milestone. [Christian Dvorak (2nd round), Brandon Montour (2nd round), Brayden Point (3rd round), Victor Arvidsson (4th round) and Kevin Lebanc (6th round) are the others, if you were curious].
- Kris Letang remains one point shy of 600 for his career
- With 490 career goals, Crosby has the nice, round 500 milestone for his career on the horizon
- The Pens’ PK is up to 30 straight successful penalty kills, which is a franchise-record 13 game streak.