Wednesday’s Pens-Habs preview, Tuesday’s pics from practice

Habs (27-17-5, 13-9-2 Road) at Pens (34-13-2, 20-4 Home), 7:00 PM ET

Based upon recent history, it’s difficult to say whether the Penguins will be capable of turning off the leaky goals faucet against Montreal.

Since the Christmas break, Pittsburgh has allowed its opponents 3.2 goals per game (in 10 contests). The team has compiled a 7-2-1 mark, but key players like Sidney Crosby know they have to be better.

“We can’t play a hockey game like that,” captain Crosby said after Monday’s 5-1 loss to Florida.

“I don’t think we gave ourselves a chance,” Crosby said. “The way we executed was bad.”

The Canadiens have struggled since Christmas, too, going 5-4-2.

Currently, they rank fourth in the Eastern Conference with 59 points, 11 behind the East-leading Penguins.

Montreal also has played inconsistently in its own end, giving up 3.18 goals per game over the last 11 contests.

The Pens will be sure to keep an eye on the likes of Max Pacioretty. He leads his team with 21 goals in 40 games and scored twice against Pittsburgh earlier in the year.

P.K. Subban leads the Habs in points with 35 (8G, 27A) in 48 games. The reigning Norris Trophy winner has not-surprisingly been at the center of controversy in recent days for his celebratory exuberance upon scoring an overtime goal against Ottawa.

Wednesday marks the meeting of one Canadian Olympic goalie against another who some feel should be on the squad. Carey Price will likely battle Roberto Luongo for playing time in the Sochi Winter Olympics while the tender with the most NHL wins – Marc-Andre Fleury – will be sitting at home watching the games on television with a league-leading 27 victories.

Brandon Sutter and Kris Letang are two players to watch Wednesday. Sutter netted four goals in three games against Montreal last season. Letang, for his part, compiled seven assists in those three games.

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The Montreal Canadiens beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2, back on Nov. 23, 2013 in the only meeting between the teams in 2013-14. The Habs’ Max Pacioretty netted two goals and netminder, Carey Price, stopped 29 of 31 shots.

Marc-Andre Fleury took the loss. He surrendered three goals on 29 shots, including two during an 80-second span early in the third period. Those goals gave Montreal a 3-0 lead, a cushion it would need after a pair of James Neal scores made it a one-goal game with two minutes and 53 seconds remaining in regulation.

The game was played in Montreal, where Pittsburgh was playing in its second of back-to-back games.

Sidney Crosby went pointless and won just six of 27 faceoffs. The Habs’ Tomas Plekanec, on the other hand, scored a goal and went 16-5 in the circle. He also had some interesting things to say about Crosby after the game.

“You want to make sure he’s not on the score sheet, and that’s what we’ve done,” Plekanec said. “When he’s not on his game, when the game doesn’t go his way, he’s frustrated.

“That’s what you want to accomplish. We wanted to get under his skin and make sure he wasn’t on his game. When Crosby’s slashing guys, jumping guys, you know he’s off his game.”

Crosby recorded four shots, but was a minus-1 and won only 22 percent of faceoffs.

Plekanec said Crosby trash-talked all game long.

“He was talking all the time,” he said. ”I didn’t say anything. I was just listening. I’m a good listener.”

The Penguins won all three meetings in 2012-13, including twice at Consol Energy Center, where the teams play Wednesday.

Pittsburgh prevailed, 7-6, in a defensively-challenged, overtime thriller in Montreal on March 2. Price let in all seven scores on 36 shots while Tomas Vokoun – who skated Wednesday morning at Consol – gave up six in 39.

Matt Cooke, Chris Kunitz and Brandon Sutter all lit the lamp two times apiece. Kris Letang tallied four assists but finished minus-2.

Sutter scored two goals in that exciting tilt and then added two more in Pittsburgh on April 17. The center totaled five points (4G, 1A) in three games against the Canadiens, including two on the power play and two which held up as game-winners.

The Pens won the mid-April tilt, 6-4. After Habs goalie, Peter Budaj, allowed three goals on nine shots, Price replaced him and served up three more on 20 shots.

Brenden Morrow and the aforementioned Sutter each scored twice. Letang picked up two more helpers, giving him six in the three-game set.

Letang always plays an intense game against Montreal and Wednesday figures to be no different. In 2011-12, Letang suffered a concussion courtesy of Pacioretty but returned to the ice in overtime to score a game-winning goal.

P.K. Subban was held to one goal in three games against the Pens. He racked up 17 penalty minutes in the April 17th game, fighting Morrow and spearing Chris Kunitz. The refs wisely got Subban off the ice late in the third period. Someone from Pittsburgh would have likely sought revenge on Subban for the Kunitz spear.

Sandwiched in the middle of two crazy contests, Fleury and the Pens shut out the Canadiens, 1-0, in Pittsburgh on March 26.

Sidney Crosby scored the lone goal.

“He’s the best player in the world, so we got beat tonight by the best player in the world, by the perfect shot,” Montreal coach Michel Therrien said.

In case you’ve never seen Therrien’s legendary post-game rant while he served as Pittsburgh’s head coach, click here for a review.

Fleury and Vokoun combined to make 37 saves in the 1-0 victory. Fleury left after two periods after colliding with Tyler Kennedy. The win pushed a Pittsburgh winning streak to 13 games.

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Tomas Vokoun, who has missed the entire 2013-14 campaign due to blood clots, skated on Consol Energy Ice on Thursday morning.

Congratulations to the 15th-year NHL veteran. Click here for more on Vokoun.

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I struggled to practice Tuesday, through the snow, wind and my father’s doctor appointment.
Here’s some of the photographic evidence.

IMG_8584 Fleury and Zatkoff sharing cooking recipes

IMG_8602 Matt Niskanen, 13 points in 14 games

IMG_8641 Letang looking for the biscuit

IMG_8659 Jokinen, underrated showing this year

IMG_8667 1 point in last 4 games

IMG_8688 Coach Bylsma with Fleury

IMG_8704 Never takes a practice off

IMG_8711 Pens practiced deflections Tuesday

IMG_8788 Malkin with the stick flex

IMG_8937 IMG_8938 IMG_8939 Fleury stones Letang’s shootout sequence

IMG_8951 This makes me hurt just looking at the picture

IMG_8963 IMG_8964 In case you wondered what “top shelf” means

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Dan Bylsma:

Sidney Crosby:

Jussi Jokinen:

Brooks Orpik:

Kris Letang:

Courtesy, Pittsburgh Penguins

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Treasure Life!
JT

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