MONTREAL – Different players score from game to game, but one thing remains constant for the Montreal Canadiens as they continue piling up wins at a torrid pace: the team defense is sound.
But on the rare occasion it isn't, Carey Price is stopping the pucks that manage to find a way through.
Jeff Halpern snapped a 1-1 tie at 2:18 of the third and Price made 27 saves as the Canadiens earned their third straight victory with a 4-1 win Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre.
Price earned his League-best 17th win and allowed only one goal for a third straight game and for the fifth time in his last six starts.
In typical fashion, Price credited his teammates for his one-goal performance, except this time he took it way overboard.
"Especially the last couple of games, it's been all the team. I'm just in there filling space, really, because we've been playing so well," Price said. "I've just been taking up oxygen out there, really."
That, of course, is ridiculous.
Over the last six games Price's save percentage is .949, and it is that very team defense Price was lauding that makes his numbers so impressive.
"The key to Carey's play is that he's been able to keep his concentration and he's been able to make the save when called upon," coach Jacques Martin said. "It's been nice to give him good support."
Price's teammates also benefit from the knowledge that their goaltender is not likely to let too many in behind them, allowing them to stick to the game plan regardless of the situation.
"He gives us a chance to stay patient and stay with our game," said captain Brian Gionta, who had a goal and an assist in the win. "He stands on his head making big saves for us, timely saves for us, it allows us to stay on our game and stay patient."
Mike Cammalleri and Roman Hamrlik also scored for the Canadiens (18-8-2), who lost slumping center Scott Gomez to a lower body injury early in the second period.
Martin said Gomez is day-to-day, but provided no more specifics on the injury.
The struggling Senators (12-15-2) got a goal from Nick Foligno and 30 saves from Pascal Leclaire, but failed to build on a modest two-game run that saw them get three of a possible four points with a shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres and a win over the New York Rangers.
Leclaire briefly left the game with 4:22 to play, seemingly injured on a scramble around his net. Brian Elliott came on in relief and promptly let the second shot he saw get past him before giving way to Leclaire again with just under two minutes left.
While Jason Spezza snapped his seven-game pointless skid with an assist on Foligno's goal, Daniel Alfredsson's own streak was stretched to a career-worst eight games.
But they're not the only ones who are having trouble finding the net for the Senators. Sergei Gonchar is now without a point in eight games and the entire second line of Alex Kovalev, Milan Michalek and Mike Fisher have gone five games since their last point.
"The biggest thing for us is we have to get the offense going," Alfredsson said. "We're not far off, but obviously we have to score more goals."
When asked if he wanted to discuss his own offensive struggles, Alfredsson curtly replied, "No."
The Senators were even helping the Canadiens get goals Tuesday as two of Montreal's four goals were scored unassisted, coming directly off Ottawa turnovers. Alfredsson was the guilty party on Cammalleri's goal, and Filip Kuba's flub in the Canadiens zone sent Gionta away on a 2-on-1 in the third.
With the game tied 1-1 early in the third, Chris Kelly tried a lob pass into the neutral zone that bounced off Jarkko Ruutu and right to Halpern, who entered the zone and beat Leclaire with a nifty move for his sixth of the season at 2:18.
"Jeff has come in and filled a role for us that's very important," Martin said. "He's done a great job on the penalty kill, he's brought some production and he's helped whatever line he's been playing on."
Gionta's goal came on a pinpoint wrist shot at 10:01 to make it 3-1, and Hamrlik extended his point streak to four games by batting a puck out of the air and in at 16:27. The Canadiens defenseman has 2 goals and 4 assists over the streak.
The Canadiens were clearly the better team for nearly the entire first period, but were still tied 1-1 after a costly late penalty to Josh Gorges gave the Senators life.
Montreal was outshooting Ottawa 7-0 until Alfredsson got Ottawa's first shot on Price eight minutes in, and less than a minute later Senators defenseman Matt Carkner was whistled for holding.
Only 26 seconds into the power play, Cammalleri grabbed an Alfredsson turnover and took a sharp-angle shot on Leclaire, then whacked the rebound between Chris Phillips' legs and inside the far post for his ninth of the season at 9:09.
The Canadiens were outshooting Ottawa 13-5 with only 30 seconds left in the first when Gorges was called for interference on Michalek, and Ottawa quickly capitalized when Foligno's wrist shot got through Price at 19:51 to tie it up.
Montreal had a golden opportunity to take the lead in the second when Kelly was assessed a boarding major for hitting Yannick Weber from behind at 8:46.
The Canadiens, missing Gomez at this point, managed only two shots on goal over those five minutes, a total matched by the Senators penalty killers.
"You've always got to leave something to work on," Martin joked.
And when Martin is telling jokes post-game, it means things are going extremely well.