The Montreal Canadiens will try to snap a four-game losing streak Saturday when the Pittsburgh Penguins visit Bell Centre.
The Canadiens fell to 13th in the Eastern Conference with Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay, but the team feels like it is far better than its standing would indicate.
“As frustrating as it can be for people and fans and even for us at a certain point because we don’t like losing, I don’t think there’s any question about the character of this team,” Montreal coach Claude Julien told reporters.
“It battles all the time. … I can’t remember a game where I felt like we were lazy or didn’t compete. It’s always been there. The biggest issue, obviously, has been our depth lately.
Already without Jonathan Drouin (wrist), Joel Armia (hand) and Paul Byron (knee), the Canadiens added Brendan Gallagher to injured reserve after he sustained a concussion Tuesday. Gallagher is second on the team with 32 points.
To help fill the void, the Canadiens on Friday signed veteran winger Ilya Kovalchuk.
Nick Cousins, who is filling in for Gallagher on the top line, said, “You can’t (replace him). Simple as that. It’s impossible.”
Still, Cousins said, “It’s a chance for other guys to step up, play more minutes.”
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is hoping for a month of Groundhog Days before the actual holiday.
The Penguins fell to San Jose 3-2 in overtime Thursday, but they extended their point streak to four games (3-0-1) and thought they played well despite losing out on a point.
They want to stick to the same blueprint.
“A lot of credit to the coaching staff and to the guys in (the locker room),” said Patric Hornqvist, who scored both Penguins goals Thursday. “We stick to the details and play hard for each other. If you do that in this league, you give yourself a chance to win every night.”
Pittsburgh is 10-2-1 in its past 13 games despite dealing with a growing list of injuries. Most recently, leading scorer Jake Guentzel had season-ending shoulder surgery Tuesday.
“That’s been our story the whole year. We’ve had guys in and out of the lineup, big guys, and we still find a way to play good hockey,” Hornqvist said.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said the team is simply playing the way it has been asked to, dating to before anyone knew there would be so many missing bodies.
“I really like the discipline that our team has right now, in all of its forms — whether it’s trying to stay out of the penalty box or whether it’s being sharp with line changes or puck management, all of the details that we talk about daily or work on daily to try to get better as a group,” Sullivan said. “Discipline in all of its forms is what makes a team hard to play against. That’s something that we’ve challenged these guys from day one of training camp.”
The closest to returning of the five currently injured players appears to be team captain Sidney Crosby, who had core muscle surgery Nov. 14. He has been skating for a couple of weeks and for the second time this week joined the team Friday for practice, but said he has not been cleared for contact and is traveling to Montreal.
The game in Montreal is the first of back-to-back games for Pittsburgh, which plays 22 hours later at home against the Florida Panthers. It seems likely that goaltender Matt Murray will start. Tristan Jarry, who has pretty well supplanted Murray as the go-to guy, is 6-0-1 in his past seven starts but will remain home to be fresh for Sunday’s game. The team has recalled Casey DeSmith for the Montreal game, presumably to be the backup.
–Field Level Media