The Pittsburgh Penguins rallied through adversity and snapped a three-game losing streak at the Bell Centre.
Both teams had identical 2-6-2 records in their last 10 games, but Pittsburgh punished Montreal 6-0 on Thursday night.
The Penguins (6-6-4) exploded in the first period with goals from Sidney Crosby, Danton Heinen and Jake Guentzel. Teddy Blueger and Brock McGinn also scored.
Blueger picked up two goals and one assist, Guentzel recorded one goal and one assist. Tristan Jarry recorded a shutout, blocking all 24 shots sent his way.
“It’s great to get everybody going,” said Kris Letang. “Sometimes you get them and sometimes you don’t but guys were so close to break out and it’s fun to get rewarded. When you see guys on the scoring sheet, it’s a good confidence booster.”
The Canadiens (4-13-2) allowed five goals or more in a single game for the eighth time this season.
Goaltender Cayden Primeau allowed five goals on 31 shots in two periods of play. Samuel Montembeault replaced Primeau at the start of the third period, allowed one goal and blocked 11 of 12 shots.
“Tonight, we were just bad,” said head coach Dominique Ducharme. “Everyone needs to go through it but tonight we were just bad. I can stand here and try to analyze every play but we were bad.”
Pittsburgh fell 2-1 to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday but scored their only goal in the third period. Assistant coach Todd Reirden, filling in for head coach Mike Sullivan who was out due to Canadian COVID guidelines, said that the team were focused on building from that game.
“We really wanted to build on our prior games, especially the third period. The start was really important for us,” Reirden said. “To get a big goal from Sid right away that early is huge for us. Just the way that the goal happened, playing good defence and winning races on the ice.”
Sullivan was one day short of the required 14 days following his exit from COVID protocol to travel across the border to Montreal. He watched from Buffalo and spoke with Penguins coaching staff through video conference between periods.
Sullivan will meet up with the Penguins in Toronto on Friday ahead of Saturday night’s game against the Maple Leafs.
Crosby scored his first goal of the season 3:36 into the game following a tic-tac-toe play with Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel. The Penguins captain was playing his first game at the Bell Centre since March 2, 2019.
Crosby, one of the several Pittsburgh players who recently returned from COVID protocol, admitted that “it’s hard to be patient” returning from both off-season surgery and COVID.
“It’s one of those things, it’s just gonna take time,” Crosby said. “I’m still learning this is a new scenario for me to go through to come back from injury for that long.”
“It’s tough to tell because Sid played three games without training camp, I don’t think he’s at the top of his confidence level right now,” Letang said. “I’ve been through it and it’s not that easy coming back from that, if your lungs were affected it can be hard but we’re at 70-80 per cent and we’re starting to build up a chemistry.”
Pittsburgh is determined to build on that momentum as they wrap up the second half of a four-game road trip with games in Toronto on Saturday and against the Winnipeg Jets Monday. Letang gave credit to his teammates for going through the adversity of COVID protocol and injuries, which include star player Evgeni Malkin.
“You don’t want to send the message that we’re limiting the damage until Crosby and Malkin come back,” Letang said. “We knew we wouldn’t have all our goal scorers and the guys that produce offensively but if we had a tight defence with a good system, we could win against any team.”