The Pittsburgh Penguins, who host the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, have been known for their offensive punch in recent years, but lately it’s their defense that has shined.
Beginning with their 6-0 drubbing of the Canadiens on Nov. 18 in Montreal, the Penguins have allowed 19 goals in 12 games (1.6 per game) and are 9-2-1, including a current four-game winning streak.
Their overall figure of 2.44 goals a game allowed ranks among the NHL leaders. In addition, their league-leading penalty kill has not given up a power-play goal in 30 consecutive chances.
“These guys are committed,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “They want to win, and they understand that if we’re going to win games consistently, we can’t just rely on scoring goals. We’ve got to play on both sides of the puck. We’ve got to play a calculated game.”
The Penguins also are getting strong goaltending, particularly from No. 1 goalie Tristan Jarry, who is expected to start Tuesday, although backup Casey DeSmith picked up the shutout Saturday in a 1-0 win against Anaheim, meaning the two goalies have combined to allow just four goals during the team’s four-game winning streak.
Jarry’s shutout against Montreal Nov. 27 was his first of three this season. His 1.92 goals-against average and .934 save percentage rank among the league leaders.
“Our goalies are playing lights-out right now,” Pittsburgh defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said.
The Penguins, who have dealt with several injuries and COVID-19 protocol absences, might be able to rely more heavily on their offensive stars when or if they all get fully healthy.
Currently, top-line wingers Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust are out on what the team is calling week-to-week bases because of injuries. Guentzel leads Pittsburgh in goals with 15 and points with 27.
Also out is second-line center and core player Evgeni Malkin, who had knee surgery in June and has been practicing in a non-contact capacity.
Montreal comes into Pittsburgh lugging a six-game losing streak (0-5-1) and the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
The Canadiens would seem to be at a further disadvantage given the Penguins’ defensive dominance lately. Montreal has scored two or fewer goals in 21 of its 29 games, including a 4-1 loss Saturday at St. Louis.
“It’s just a little bit frustrating for our group right now,” said Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen, who has started seven games in a row.
“It’s tough. We’re obviously not playing very good hockey, and we’re facing a lot of hills. We’re climbing a lot of hills right now, and we’ve got to start moving our way up that hill a little bit more in this upcoming schedule before Christmas to gain some steam.”
Four of Montreal’s six games before the holiday break, including Tuesday, are on the road, where the team is 2-10-2.
The Canadiens also have dealt with injuries, and coach Dominique Ducharme said that means there is too much pressure on some young players.
“You don’t want to be just having young guys that are not quite ready and that are just trying to survive versus playing at another level, gaining confidence, making key plays, playing in big moments and big situations and so on,” Ducharme said.
–Field Level Media