The Montreal Canadiens are starting to play better after a three-week span which featured one victory. The Pittsburgh Penguins were on a bit of a roll until running into the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Montreal looks to post back-to-back wins for the first time since late November on Saturday night when it faces a Pittsburgh team that's had recent success at Bell Centre.
The Canadiens (23-16-3) have alternated wins and losses in their last five games, and while that stretch doesn't necessarily mean they've turned things around, it's a dramatic improvement following a 1-10-0 record Dec. 3-26.
Montreal split the last four on a season-high eight-game trip before opening a three-game homestand with a 2-1 victory over New Jersey on Wednesday. It hasn't won two in a row since taking four straight Nov. 20-27.
"It's time for us to play the right way for a couple of games in a row now. It hasn't been the case as of late," captain Max Pacioretty told the team's official website. "We played a good, strong game last game and we've got to build off that and play the right way against Pittsburgh."
Pacioretty scored on the power play for his 17th goal Wednesday and Torrey Mitchell added a short-handed score, Montreal's eighth to tie Ottawa for the NHL lead. The Canadiens, though, are 4 for 48 on the power play in their last 16 games.
"When you win the special-teams battle, you definitely give yourself a much greater opportunity of winning the game," Pacioretty said. "This game is so tightly checked that 5-on-5 goals are very tough to score."
Special teams have recently been a strong point for Pittsburgh (19-16-5), which has held opponents without a goal in 20 power-play opportunities over its last eight and is 10 for 28 (35.7 percent) on its own chances in the previous nine. The Penguins, though, were swept by Chicago in a home-and-home series this week following a 4-1-1 stretch.
Pittsburgh scored twice in the third period to send Tuesday's home matchup to overtime, where it lost 3-2, before allowing two goals in the third the next night in a 3-1 defeat at Chicago.
"I think just dictating the play has been more of our identity here lately and tonight when we don't do that you see the difference," captain Sidney Crosby said. "We are really a team that can skate and play on our toes and when we're doing that we're playing fast and we're tough to contain."
Crosby was held without a point Wednesday after registering six goals and six assists in his previous eight games. He had six goals in his first 32 contests.
"You always pay attention to Sidney. He's the best player in the world," Pacioretty said. "He's playing well. It was only a matter of time. You have to be aware of him on the ice. ... Our job is to make sure he doesn't get any chances."
These teams have split two meetings in Pittsburgh this season, a 3-2 win for Montreal on Oct. 13 and a 4-3 shootout victory for the Penguins on Nov. 11. Pittsburgh has won two straight in Montreal and is 5-1-1 in its last seven visits.
"They're a team that's desperate," Pacioretty said. "They'll do whatever it takes to win the game, especially in Montreal. We've got to put together a good game after a strong performance last game."