The Penguins (44-28-6) have not officially clinched a playoff spot and are clawing for positioning in the tight Metropolitan Division yet are a somewhat pedestrian 5-3-2 in their past 10 games.
In addition, they have a showdown with Washington, first in the Metro, on Sunday.
Pittsburgh has had some trouble lately playing soundly against opponents that are out of playoff contention, with losses the past three weeks against the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings.
However, this will be the Penguins’ third game in March against Montreal, another also-ran club, and they have won the first two, both by 5-3. They will be going for their second-ever season series sweep of Canadiens and have won four straight and six of seven in the series.
What the Penguins are hoping for is a repeat of those two recent matchups with the Canadiens. Better yet, they would like to have a performance like the one they turned in Thursday with a gritty 4-3 overtime win against Metro foe New Jersey.
“This was our best 60-minute game in a long time,” Pittsburgh winger Patric Hornqvist, who is one goal shy of 200 for his career, said of the win over the Devils. “It’s the way we have to play from now on.”
Montreal (28-37-12) is 4-8-2 this month, but it isn’t looking to serve as some sort of a tune-up for the Penguins before their game against the Capitals.
The Canadiens, who have been off since Monday, a 4-2 win over Detroit, are finding motivation by looking to the future and are giving a handful of young players a chance to prove themselves.
“Those guys are still working out kinks in their game and improving,” winger Paul Byron said Friday after practice and before the team’s flight to Pittsburgh. “There are a lot of positives I see on our team right now. That’s why it’s so important to finish strong. Anything you do now kind of leads into next year.”
Everything the Canadiens do will be watched closely by management.
“I don’t think anybody’s evaluation is done,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. “It’s important that they prove that they’re fighters.
“I want to see character — not just the evaluation of the player on the ice, but what kind of character does he have? Is he a guy who’s going to fight to the end, or is he a guy who’s going to mail it in and say, ‘Let’s get these games over with?’ It means a lot. Not just from young players, but from veterans, too.”
Montreal could get defenseman David Schlemko back from an upper-body injury that has sidelined him for 12 games. He has medical clearance, but Julien has not decided on his lineup as far as skaters.
“You definitely want to be battling with the guys and on the ice,” Schlemko said. “Hockey’s a lot more fun when you’re playing games instead of bag skating by yourself. I’ve been working for weeks now on the ice to get back, so I’m definitely excited and chomping at the bit.”
The Penguins could get center Derick Brassard back after he missed the New Jersey game because of a lower-body injury.