MONTREAL – Tomas Plekanec had no problem Saturday night shutting down Sidney Crosby.
Plekanec was matched up with Crosby, and kept the Penguins star without a point as the Montreal Canadiens edged Pittsburgh 3-2 at the Bell Centre.
“You want to make sure he’s not on the score sheet, and that’s what we’ve done,” said Plekanec. “When he’s not on his game, when the game doesn’t go his way, he’s frustrated.
“That’s what you want to accomplish. We wanted to get under his skin and make sure he wasn’t on his game. When Crosby’s slashing guys, jumping guys, you know he’s off his game.”
Crosby had four shots on the night, a minus-1 rating, and finished with a 22 per cent success rate from the face off circle.
Plekanec said Crosby trash-talked all game long.
“He was talking all the time,” said Plekanec. “I didn’t say anything. I was just listening. I’m a good listener.”
Unlike Crosby, the Czech forward scored on the night, his seventh of the year, and finished 16 for 21 from the face-off circle.
“Every aspect of his game was excellent,” said head coach Michel Therrien of Plekanec’s performance. “He’s a smart player. He’s playing the right way. He’s always in a good position on the ice. He’s doing a lot of good things. I’m confident putting guys like that on the ice.
“It’s always a challenge to face the league’s best player, but he was up for the challenge.”
Pacioretty scored twice for the Canadiens (13-9-2) to extend their win streak to three games, and Carey Price made 29 saves, including a big one on Crosby early in the first period.
“When you make a couple of stops early, it definitely helps you get comfortable,” said Price, who now has a 2.05 goals-against-average and a .935 save percentage. “We’re just trying to get a win. In order to do that, we have to play well against (Crosby). But they have a lot of other guys who can put the puck in the net.”
Pittsburgh’s (15-9-0) James Neal, beat Price twice in the third period.
With the score 3-0 early in the final period, Neal reduced the deficit when he rifled a shot over Price’s glove and into the roof of the net on the power play.
He added another late in the game, sidestepping Price and sliding his fourth of the year in the back of the net on the backhand at 17:07.
Despite the two third-period goals, Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma thought Price was the difference in the end.
“In the third period, in the last four minutes, we had some flurries around the net, some pucks in there, and he was strong,” said Bylsma. “We weren’t able to crack him there. In the first period, he gave us three or four real good saves that we’re the difference.”
After a scoreless first period, Pacioretty scored his sixth of the year at 1:53 of the second to put the Habs ahead 1-0.
Pacioretty intercepted a weak clearance by Pens defenceman Olli Maatta in the neutral zone, skated across the blue-line, and snapped a quick, low shot off the post and in.
“They go in sometimes, and sometimes they don’t,” said Pacioretty. “And when you’re feeling good, they do. I have that shot in my bag, and when I’m doubting myself, it probably doesn’t go in. But I’m feeling good right now.”
Plekanec added to the Canadiens’ lead when his wrist shot beat Marc-Andre Fleury between the legs, and Pacioretty scored his second of the game, the eventual game-winner, a minute later after stealing a bouncing puck from Evgeni Malkin on the Pens’ blue-line.
Fleury made 26 saves for the Penguins.
Montreal has now outscored its opponents 12-6 during its three-game win streak. The Habs are coming off a 3-2 victory against the Capitals on Friday in which they scored three times in less than five minutes in the first period to secure the victory.
The Canadiens travel to Buffalo to face the Sabres on Wednesday.
Notes: This was the first of three matchups between the Habs and Penguins this season. The teams meet again In Pittsburgh on Jan. 22. … Sidney Crosby leads the league with 30 points.…P.K. Subban leads the Canadiens in points with three goals and 17 assists.…Habs defencemen have now gone seven games without scoring.…Pittsburgh sits first in the Metropolitan Division.