PITTSBURGH — When the Penguins built their team into a Stanley Cup champion during the 2015-16 season they did it by adding fast, quick players into the mix.
Turn the clock ahead three years and the Montreal Canadiens are doing the same. They obviously needed to something.
Montreal needed to revitalize a stagnating franchise that has not won the Stanley Cup since 1993. It’s by far the longest such drought in its storied history. The Canadiens also have not made it past the first round of the playoffs since 2015 and failed to each the postseason two of the last three years.
“I think one of their strengths is their quickness,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “They’re young, they’re fast, they’re trying to play a pace game and that’s kind of the evolution of the game and that’s where the game is going right now, so more and more teams are using speed to create their advantage.”
Having a faster team makes for a more aggressive offense and forecheck but it can also create counterattack opportunities for a similar opponent like the Penguins. Though historically Montreal has a decisive 67-112-31 advantage in the all-time series, Pittsburgh has won the last five matchups overall and took the last four at PPG Paints Arena.
With speed being as big a factor — and with the possibility, a young team like Montreal is still feeling its way a bit with the philosophical paradigm shift — much of the onus will be on goaltender Carey Price to make sure the Canadiens can stay with teams like the Penguins who are used to the up-tempo game. Though one of the premier netminders in the NHL, he has struggled against Pittsburgh with an 11-12-4 record, a 3.05 goals-against and a 9.05 save percentage.
All his numbers against Pittsburgh are below his career averages.
“He’s been one of the premier goaltenders in the league the last handful of years, he makes that timely save for them and gives them a chance to win, night in and night out,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got a big challenge tonight. We’ve got to make it hard on him, we’ve got to get in his sightlines and create chaos in front of him to make it a difficult night for him and, if we can do that, we can score some goals.”
More about the Canadiens lines and season of change (Habs Eyes on the Prize). The Canadiens scratched veterans Tomas Plekanec and Karl Alzner in their opener and it appears one or both could again be a scratch tonight.
Montreal lost to heritage rival Toronto, Wednesday 3-2 in OT. Toronto center Auston Matthews scored the game winner.
Penguins Lines (1-0-0)
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Jason Zucker||Evgeni Malkin||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Jared McCann||Jeff Carter||Freddy Gaudreau|
|Zach Aston-Reese||Teddy Blueger||Brandon Tanev|
|Brian Dumoulin||Kris Letang|
|Mike Matheson||Cody Ceci|
|Marcus Pettersson||John Marino|
— Jonathan Bernier (@JBernierJDM) October 5, 2018
The defensive pairings:
Victor Mete – Jeff Petry
Mike Reilly – Noah Juulsen
Xavier Ouellet – Jordy Benn
Carey Price is expected to start in goal