Penguins rookie defenseman Kris Letang has played in Montreal during the preseason, but he has never faced the Canadiens in the regular season. He gets his first chance to play a "real" game in his hometown tonight.
"It's going to be great in front of my family and everything, to go where I started playing hockey," Letang, who played junior hockey in Val d'Or, Quebec, said yesterday before the Penguins played at home against Tampa Bay.
Whether it will be his first chance to play against his favorite team is another question.
"It was not my favorite team," Letang said of Montreal.
"I can't tell you, but it wasn't Montreal," he said.
Letang watched a steady diet of the Canadiens' games because that was the NHL team available to him. He watched mostly the French broadcasts, but occasionally the ones in English.
"Every time the Canadiens were playing, I was watching TV, even though it was not my favorite team," he said.
"I might have seen maybe over a thousand games, with playoffs and everything."
He sometimes attended Canadiens games, especially if there was an opponent he wanted to see.
"I went to Montreal to see the Penguins playing when Mario [Lemieux] was there," Letang said.
Letang had to beg, borrow and barter to get enough tickets for tonight to accommodate the 20 or so friends and family who will be watching.
No sweet home
Traditionally, a team going into Montreal's Bell Centre for a Saturday "Hockey Night in Canada" game can expect to be knee deep in tradition and hip deep in a competitive game.
This season, the Canadiens have been overly gracious hosts.
Although they are 16-4-3 on the road and tied for the most road points with 35, they are 8-7-2 at home, among the worst in the NHL.
"We seem to be a lot more comfortable on the road," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said.
"We still have a young team, and, on the road, you have less distractions. Everyone kind of sticks together, and that makes it a lot easier."
Tampa Bay, which won the 2003-04 Stanley Cup, has struggled this season and is last in the Eastern Conference.
Coach John Tortorella this week got a vote of confidence from general manager Jay Feaster and yesterday a nod of empathy from Penguins coach Michel Therrien.
"It's not easy for John," Therrien said. "Almost three years ago when I got here, it was not easy to try to get your team on a roll."
Earlier in the week, Tortorella called an 8 a.m. practice the morning after a lackluster, 3-0 loss to Colorado, then directed the players to spend a couple hours watching video.
Asked if he had ever been compelled to convene a practice that early, Therrien shook his head.
"No, never," he said.
"If I did, I would probably try to forget it."
Although it is last in the conference, the Lightning doesn't have to look too far up to see its fellow Southeast Division teams. "I want our players looking at the standings," Tortorella said. "I want them to have a belief that we still have a chance here. And we do. Because our division is so mediocre, we're still in it." ... Penguins winger Jeff Taffe played after having an abscess removed from his jaw this week, but forward Erik Christensen (virus) remained out of the lineup. Forward Ryan Stone and defenseman Ryan Lannon were healthy scratches.