MONTREAL – Few gave the Montreal Canadiens and their injury-ravaged blue line much chance to snap the high-scoring New York Rangers' seven-game winning streak Saturday night.
Except not only did the Canadiens prevail, but they did so in very convincing fashion.
Carey Price needed to make only 17 saves for his second shutout in a row, captain Brian Gionta scored two goals and the Canadiens cruised to a 4-0 win.
Montreal played its third game with a defense that features just one player – Josh Gorges – with more than two seasons of NHL experience, but Price feels that weakness has actually become a strength for the Canadiens.
"It shows that we're a desperate team," said Price, who has not allowed a goal in his last 132:30 of play. "You come in here and you face a team that's streaking and you've got a lot of young kids in the lineup, you're almost playing scared. You're really desperate, so I think we had that advantage."
Tomas Plekanec had a goal and an assist and Erik Cole also scored for the Canadiens (9-8-3), who have won four of their last six games.
Martin Biron got the nod in goal in favor of Henrik Lundqvist and made 27 saves for the Rangers (10-4-3), who have allowed more than two goals in a game just twice in their past eight games, both times against the Canadiens.
Rangers coach John Tortorella was less than impressed with his team's effort and was quick to place the blame anywhere but on his goaltender.
"Don't look at our goalie, I'll tell you that," Tortorella said. "Our whole crew in front of him never had the puck."
The Rangers entered Saturday seeking their first eight-game win streak in close to 37 years, but they came nowhere close to the effort required to make it happen.
"Their speed, we had problems with," Tortorella said. "We were chasing the game the whole night. We didn't do much with battles, didn't do much with races to pucks right on through our lineup."
Montreal's work on special teams – 2-for-6 on the power play and 3-for-3 on the penalty kill – helped them earn this win in much the same way it has helped turn their entire season around.
Back on Oct. 26, the Canadiens were 1-5-2 when general manager Pierre Gauthier fired assistant coach Perry Pearn, who was in charge of both the power play and penalty kill.
The power play was just 3-for-32 at the time, but since it has gone 9-for-46, a more than respectable success rate of 19.6 per cent.
"When you're winning games, your special teams are going to be there, there's no question about that," Gionta said. "We've got two good units on the power play now that can produce, and that's really key. Either way you've got a full two minutes of guys that are making things happen. And our PK is shutting teams down."
That is putting it mildly.
Starting with that 5-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 26, the Canadiens have killed off 50 of 52 penalties over the past 12 games, an outstanding 96.2 percent efficiency rating. That includes a current streak of 31 straight penalties killed dating back to the first goal allowed against these Rangers in a 5-3 loss at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 5.
"I think early in the year we weren't on the same page and we were trying to think too much, if that makes sense," said defenseman Josh Gorges – after knocking on wood – to describe the team's penalty kill success. "On the penalty kill you don't have time, it's more instinctive plays. You have to know where to be, you have to be there and you have to anticipate. I think right now we're doing that."
The Rangers came in on an offensive tear with 27 goals over the seven-game win streak – an average of 3.9 goals per game. But they were anemic on this night, generating just eight shots on goal through 27 minutes of action and 10 shots through 48.
"No, I was thrilled we had 10 shots," Tortorella said dryly when asked if he was disappointed with his team's output after two periods.
The Canadiens opened the scoring at 3:45 of the first on the power play when Cole snapped a shot high to the far corner past Biron for his sixth of the season and his third in four games.
Gionta made it 2-0 at 8:12 of the second with a sharp-angle shot that somehow got through Biron for the captain's sixth of the season.
Plekanec scored another power play goal at 7:05 of the third, getting a knuckler from the point over Biron's glove for his fifth of the season. Plekanec now has 3 goals and 12 assists in his last 12 games.
Gionta got his second of the night -- and seventh of the season -- at 13:47 of the third by one-timing a feed from former Ranger Scott Gomez, who had two assists on the night to double his season point total.