Pittsburgh during a Stanley Cup run is a great place, defenseman Hal Gill said, but every day in Montreal is like a hockey holiday.
"We had a lot of pride here and there was a big buzz," Gill said yesterday of his time with the Penguins, including winning the championship last season.
"But Montreal is a whole different animal. It's a lot of fun. There's a lot of pressure, a lot of importance on every game. I enjoy that."
Gill became one of the few members of the Stanley Cup champions to leave the Penguins when he became a free agent and signed a two-year deal with the Canadiens worth $2,225,000 per season. He played against the Penguins for the first time then last night at Mellon Arena.
"Obviously, I wanted to stay in Pittsburgh, but, financially, it was a better decision to go to Montreal," Gill said.
"It's a team that sought after me and wanted me to be part of the team, so I was excited about that. And I got a two-year deal, which is good for me and my family."
Gill was part of what became known as the Penguins' shutdown defensive pairing with Rob Scuderi, who also left to sign with Los Angeles.
Gill does not necessarily fit the profile of the revamped Canadiens. He is not fleet. But at 6 feet 7, he is hard to maneuver around. And he brings the same quality that made him a locker-room favorite with the Penguins.
"He's a character," Montreal coach Jacques Martin said. "He's a player that his teammates really enjoy. He's an upbeat individual, loves to talk and has been really good for our team. He brings out the best in his teammates."
After the Canadiens' morning skate, Gill got his Stanley Cup ring from Penguins general manager Ray Shero. He said he was looking forward to that but, after a summer of celebrating, was ready to move on with his new team. He even forgot to look up during the morning skate to see the newest championship banner.
No, Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis insisted he did not have the H1N1 virus.
"I wouldn't be here today if I had that," he said. "It was a quick turnaround. I just didn't feel good for a couple days, so they told me to stay home."
Dupuis missed practice Monday and Tuesday with a cold or flu-like illness, but he was back for the morning skate and in the lineup last night against Montreal.
The illness first struck his three children last week -- "What the kids have, the dad's going to have," he said -- but he felt better by Tuesday.
"I stayed home [Tuesday] for precaution," he said.
Coach Dan Bylsma confirmed that the team asked Dupuis to stay away an extra day, but not specifically because the Penguins were worried about the so-called swine flu sweeping through the locker room.
"I don't watch that much TV other than hockey during the season, so I'm not caught up in the fear of an epidemic that might be there," Bylsma said. "The concern for keeping Pascal away for the past few days was not so much because he couldn't come here and participate, but when there's a chance that he can be contagious -- whatever he has, a cold, flu, it doesn't matter -- we did that to protect everyone else. We always do that."
Over the past few days, three players in the NHL have been confirmed to have the H1N1 virus -- Washington forward Quintin Laing, Edmonton defenseman Ladislav Smid and Colorado goalie Peter Budaj.
Winger Tyler Kennedy, who has an undisclosed injury and is listed as day to day, was the Penguins' only scratch. ... Montreal scratched former Penguins enforcer Georges Laraque and winger Gregory Stewart.
For more on the Penguins, read the new Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721.