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Penguins-Canadiens Preview

Saturday, 12.16.2006 / 7:00 PM

Associated Press

Though the future of the Pittsburgh Penguins is in doubt, Sidney Crosby clearly appears to be enjoying the present.

The league's leading scorer will try to add to his total and help the Penguins to their fifth win in a row when they travel to the Bell Centre to meet the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

Shortly before Friday's 7-4 win over the New York Islanders, Penguins owner Mario Lemieux announced that Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie withdrew an offer made more than two months ago to buy the franchise for $175 million.

"We were hopeful that this was going to come to a conclusion any day," Penguins CEO Ken Sawyer said Friday night during a news conference at the arena. "All we know is that (Balsillie) and the league couldn't come to an agreement and he chose to give us a (termination) notice.

"The price and the terms, there was no problem there."

On Friday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman again warned the team's future in Pittsburgh is uncertain if the Isle of Capri casino chain is not awarded a license to build a slots parlor in the city.

Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. has promised to replace 45-year-old Mellon Arena - the league's oldest venue - with a $290 million arena at no cost to taxpayers or the team if it is awarded the license.

Lemieux said Friday's events create "significant uncertainty" for the franchise.

Crosby, who turned 19 last month, scored in the first period Friday. He also added three assists, all to set up goals by Ryan Malone, and has six goals and 19 points in a seven-game streak.

The runner-up to Washington's Alexander Ovechkin for the Calder Trophy last season, Crosby had three goals and three assists in four games against the Canadiens last year, including two game-winning goals - one in a shootout. The Penguins (14-11-5) won three of the four meetings.

"Whoever is out against him will have their hands full," said Montreal's Mike Johnson. "He's just so explosive. He's quick and he makes everything happen. You won't stop him, you can just try to contain him, limit his opportunities. But in the end, he'll get his points. That's just the reality of playing against players that good."

Crosby, who has 16 goals, leads the league with 35 assists and 51 points in just 28 games. He had 102 points in 81 games as a rookie.

The Canadiens (18-8-5) may have the defense to stop Crosby. Cristobal Huet didn't face the Penguins last season, but is 2-0-0 with an 0.58 goals-against average and one shutout in his career against them. Both wins came in the 2003 calendar year, when he was with Los Angeles.

"He's a goalie who's not going to quit on any play, and a lot of times he steals goals from a player when they think it's in," Canadiens captain Saku Koivu said of Huet, who is 12-3-3 and whose .933 save percentage is the best among starting goaltenders.

Montreal, which has 10 wins at home, is expected to have left wing Chris Higgins back for the first time after an 18-game absence due to a sprained left ankle suffered Nov. 4.

"It's totally healed now," said Higgins, who was leading Montreal in scoring with 13 points - including three short-handed goals - in 13 games prior to the injury. "There's no pain when I'm skating. I even fell on it couple of times and there were no problems."

Montreal continued its strong home play with a 4-2 win over Tampa Bay on Thursday. Koivu scored twice in a three-goal third period and Huet made 41 saves, including spectacular stops on Vincent Lecavalier and Filip Kuba.

2006-2007 season series
DateScoreW. Goal
Mar 16 '07MTL 3 at PIT 6G. Roberts
Feb 04 '07PIT 3 at MTL 4 - OTS. Souray
Feb 01 '07MTL 4 at PIT 5 - SOE. Malkin
Dec 16 '06PIT 3 at MTL 6S. Souray
PlayerGPGAP+/-PIMPPGW
GoalieGPRec.GASAGAASv%
PlayerGPGAP+/-PIMPPGW
GoalieGPRec.GASAGAASv%