Penguins forwards Sidney Crosby, left, and James Neal are both out with injuries.
Photograph by: Chaz Palla, AP
PITTSBURGH — There was a time in the past when the Canadiens were regarded as the model National Hockey League franchise.
But as the Canadiens attempt to reclaim some of their former glory, the team they look to for inspiration is the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“That’s the team that every other team is trying to match, to emulate their style,” Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges said. “They’re successful every year and it’s not a fluke. Obviously, they have talented players and that’s going to help, but they play a team concept and they all buy into it.
“I think more so than the players they have like (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin, they’re a good team,” Gorges added. “Playing against them over the last five or six years, it doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup or who’s hurt, they play well together. They are systematically and fundamentally sound. There aren’t too many holes in their game. When you have a team like that, even if you have one or two guys out, they play the way you expect them to play.”
The Penguins resiliency is no surprise to Canadiens coach Michel Therrien, who was coaching in Pittsburgh when the Penguins began to achieve a level of respectability.
“When we talk about a team concept, you look at the Pittsburgh Penguins, and even when they keep losing players, they still have the team concept,” Therrien said. “They play the way they’re supposed to and they have success. Even for us, in the course of the season we lost some players, but we were still playing the same way and we were winning. The team concept is very important for both teams.”
Penguins defenceman Kris Letang, who has missed 12 games this season, said he isn’t surprised the Penguins have been able to overcome adversity.
“We always play good through injuries,” the Montreal native said. “Other guys take advantage of the situation and pick up the slack. When guys go down, it gives other guys a chance to show what they can do.”
One such player is Laval’s Pascal Dupuis, the team’s second-leading goal scorer. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said there’s a tendency to dismiss Dupuis’ production because he plays with Crosby, but before facing the Canadiens Wednesday night, Dupuis had nine points in the past six games while Crosby has been recovering from a broken jaw.
Heading into Wednesday’s game, the Penguins were 4-2 when Crosby was out of the lineup. They were also 8-4 when Letang has been out, 7-2 without defenceman Paul Martin and 12-2 when Evgeni Malkin was out. James Neal is the latest casualty and the Penguins had won three straight games without him before facing the Canadiens.
Crosby, Neal, Martin and Malkin are nursing injuries, and Bylsma was asked whether it was important for those players to return before the playoffs.
“There’s benefit in playing games when you haven’t played for a stretch, but you’re talking about players who are good hockey players and can get into a game and be as factor their first game back, whether it’s Game 46 or Game 47 or Game 1 (of the playoffs),” Bylsma said. “Look at Kris Letang. The second he steps back on the ice after a layoff, he plays 23 minutes and is factor immediately.
“We’re not going to push guys to play just to give them some games,” the Penguins coach added. “We’re going to make sure everyone’s 100 per cent. We not going to rush anyone back.”
Gorges said the Penguins added a new dimension when they reloaded before the NHL trade deadline. The Penguins added defenceman Douglas Murray and forwards Brenden Morrow, Jarome Iginla and Jussi Jokinen.
“(The new guys) can score, but they also play a hard game,” Gorges said. “They don’t look for cute plays. I played against Morrow when I was in San Jose and he finishes his checks, he goes to the front of the net. He digs, he battles. His numbers speak for themselves and a lot of those goals are scored in front of the net. So, they not only have guys who can make plays, but they have guys who are willing to go to the dirty areas as well.”
Bylsma said integrating the newcomers into the system has been a challenge because the schedule doesn’t leave much time for practices.
“We had two opportunities to practise and we took two days off because we thought it was more important to get some rest,” Bylsma said. “We had two days this week and we had one hard practice and then we had a practice that was more about details.”
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