Montreal goaltender Carey Price is scored on by the Penguins' Brandon Sutter in an overtime game on March 2. It marked the first victory in the Penguins' 12-game win streak.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Penguins' 12-game winning streak started March 2 at Montreal. Tonight, they face the Canadiens again, this time at Consol Energy Center.
While they are keen on beating Montreal to extend their streak and build even more of a cushion atop the Eastern Conference, they aren't exactly looking for a repeat.
In the earlier game, the Penguins were finishing a road trip that started with losses at Florida and Carolina by a combined 10-5 score.
"The first two games of that trip were not good. We were kind of rotten," defenseman Matt Niskanen said Monday after practice.
They went into Montreal and got into a goal-fest, winning, 7-6, when Brandon Sutter notched his second goal of the game in overtime.
"They play a fast game, so there's bound to be some scoring chances," Niskanen said. "We don't want a track meet like it was last game. We don't want to exchange chances like that. Luckily, we won that game. We were able to score seven."
As the winning streak has grown, the scoring chances and goals by opponents have shrunk. The Penguins have given up just nine goals over their past eight games.
"We're happy with wins, but you're happier with wins when you play well and play well defensively," Sutter said. "We've been keeping the goals against down, coming back and being in tight games. Those are the games you want to win. We're definitely more proud of those games."
The Penguins gave up 11 goals over the three games after the win against Montreal. They lead the league in offense with an average of 3.46 goals a game and were able to pull out those three games, but since then they have been downright stingy.
"It's the right way to play, and we're winning doing it, so guys believe in it," Niskanen said. "We owe it to our goalies, to give them a chance every night. We hung them out to dry a few times earlier this season.
"We know we can press the issue if we need to come from behind, but playing the right way is always going to give us a chance to win, and it's shown in this streak."
The game tonight marks former Penguins coach Michel Therrien's first game behind a bench at Consol Energy Center.
Center Evgeni Malkin (shoulder) and defenseman Kris Letang (leg) practiced again and are still considered day to day, but there was no indication whether they will return tonight from injury. Both are on injured reserve. They can be activated at any time, but a roster spot would have to be opened for them.
"We're doing well right now," Letang said of the team. "There's no reason to rush. You want to be 100 percent. That's why we're going day to day."
Winger Pascal Dupuis, who got slammed into the boards Sunday by Philadelphia's Braydon Coburn late in a win, practiced with no apparent hindrances.
Penguins winger James Neal was nowhere to be found at the start of practice. Or at the middle part of practice.
Finally, as the final drill, the shootout, was about to begin, Neal skated onto the ice. He got some chirps from his teammates as they watched him do a few laps wearing a smile. He then stayed on the ice beyond the end of practice. It turns out Neal was delayed by a doctor's appointment, according to coach Dan Bylsma.
Guy Boucher, who was fired over the weekend by Tampa Bay, will be back behind an NHL bench, Penguins center Sidney Crosby predicted.
"He's got the passion," Crosby said. "I fully expect him to get an opportunity somewhere else."
Boucher was an assistant with Rimouski when Crosby played junior hockey there.
"I remember the individual skill stuff that I used to do with him," Crosby said. "He worked with all the forwards.
"As a head coach, there's a lot more responsibility. The way he coached and the passion he brought is the same passion he brought when he was an assistant. It's a different challenge [as a head coach] and there's a lot of pressure that comes with that, unfortunately. [Tampa Bay is] struggling a bit, and the coach is always the one that everyone looks at."
The Penguins, who have sold out 270 home games in a row, sent out invoices for 2013-14 season tickets. Prices increased an average of 4 percent.