The Pittsburgh Penguins are getting what could be seen as a respite on Tuesday when the Montreal Canadiens visit.
Pittsburgh is 7-1-1 in its past nine games and is pushing to hold onto at least a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and perhaps move up.
Montreal is in freefall, having gone 0-for-March, and not only is far out of the playoff picture but also could be pushing for one of the bottom spots in the league.
The Canadiens also will be playing on back-to-back nights after falling on Monday at home against the Colorado Avalanche, 8-4.
In addition for the Penguins, the game against Montreal comes in the middle of a stretch of three games in a week against the Metropolitan Division rival New York Rangers, contests that could have a significant impact on the playoff picture.
The Penguins won the first of those meetings 3-2 in overtime on Sunday in Pittsburgh to pull within six points of the third-place Rangers. The teams will face off again Thursday and Saturday, both times in New York.
Pittsburgh goaltender Tristan Jarry believes his team is driven during the stretch drive.
“We need the points a lot more than (the Rangers) do, so I think we were a little more desperate,” Jarry said. “Hopefully, that continues throughout the week.”
Certainly, the Penguins would seem to have more to play for with a month left in the season than Montreal does.
“Lately we’ve just been looking at the game we’re playing that night, focusing on our game, our details,” said defenseman Kris Letang, who scored in overtime Sunday.
“It doesn’t matter where teams are in the standings; we need to climb. We need to rack points up. So that’s how we approach it.”
One catalyst lately for Pittsburgh is Jason Zucker. The winger not only displays a great amount of energy on the ice, but he also has collected goals in four straight games, and he has nine total over the past eight games.
“He’s just playing awesome,” fellow Penguins winger Bryan Rust said. “When you’re playing well, working hard, making things happen, you get a couple (fortuitous) bounces … but I think most of this run he’s been on has been him just being awesome.”
Things have decidedly not been awesome for the Canadiens. They showed some life by winning three of four to close out February, but they have opened March with seven straight losses (0-5-2). They have given up 27 goals during the skid, not counting opponents’ extra “goal” for winning in a shootout.
There have been a lot of tough nights for Montreal.
“I think our group has played very hard. Heavy schedule. Hard schedule. And they’ve been engaged,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said.
“(Monday) wasn’t our best, but I’m just going to move on and focus on Pittsburgh.”
The Canadiens can complete a season sweep of the Penguins. They won the first two meetings with Pittsburgh, both in overtime, but the teams haven’t met since Nov. 12.
Against the Avalanche, Montreal goaltender Jake Allen gave up six goals on 15 shots before being pulled for backup Sam Montembeault, who stopped 16 of the 18 shots he faced. St. Louis indicated that despite his relief appearance, Montembeault would start against the Penguins.
Pittsburgh is expected to go with Jarry.
Montreal forward Rem Pitlick left in the first period of the Monday game after going into the end boards awkwardly, but St. Louis said Pitlick would travel to Pittsburgh.
–Field Level Media