MONTREAL – With only one veteran skating on an injury-wracked defence, a shutout was the last thing the Montreal Canadiens expected.
But the forwards played hard and provided support, Carey Price made 25 saves for his first shutout of the season and Carolina complied by bringing a listless effort to the Bell Centre as Montreal downed the Hurricanes 4-0 on Wednesday night.
“The young guys did a great job,” Montreal captain Brian Gionta said. “(Alexei) Emelin was all over the place—lots of hits, lots of blocked shots—and Freddy (St-Denis) did a great job. He showed a lot of poise and moved the puck well.”
With Hal Gill (illness), Jaroslav Spacek (upper body) and Andrei Markov (knee) all out, Josh Gorges was the only veteran defenceman in the lineup with 382 career NHL games. Next up was P.K. Subban with 97, Yannick Weber with 67. Raphael Diaz had 18 of experience, Emelin came in with 10 and St-Denis was making his NHL debut after a call up from the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs.
Gill, Spacek and Markov each have more games under their belts than the entire defence corps that was on the ice.
“It was a good team performance,” Habs coach Jacques Martin said. “The forwards did a good job coming back and the defence kept it simple.”
Subban scored his first goal of the season while Weber, Michael Cammalleri and Travis Moen also scored for Montreal (8-7-3), which moved above the .500 mark for the first time this season. The Canadiens also moved into a tie for eighth in the Eastern Conference with Ottawa.
The same young defence is expected to be on the ice when the Canadiens face the Islanders in New York on Thursday night, possibly with backup Peter Budaj in goal.
The Canadiens started the season winning one of their first eight games, but they are 7-2-1 since then.
“We’re headed in the right direction,” Price said. “We’re starting to do a lot of little things right and we’re starting to get more puck luck.
“Guys are on the same page. We have new guys stepping in who know what to do right away because the guys are playing the system.”
The Hurricanes are in a 3-7-0 slide that isn’t likely to improve if they continue the disinterested play they brought to Montreal. After two periods, the Canadiens were up 4-0 and dominating 32-12 in shots. Play opened up in the third, when Price finally got some work and had to make a sharp save on a close-range blast from Carolina captain Eric Staal.
“We didn’t show up, we didn’t play and we got what we deserve,” said Staal, who had seven shots. “We need a little more fight, a little more jump.
“In the third we were buzzing, but by that time Montreal was up 4-0 and they were just sitting there having a good time playing the game, so we got some chances but it didn’t matter at that point because the game was over.”
Staal said the Hurricanes have to find their game, and fast.
“No question there’s concern. If we keep losing we’re not going to be in the mix for the playoffs, so we’ve got to figure this out and get back to winning,” he said. “If we don’t, the season will be wasted.”
It was the Hurricanes’ first visit since winger Erik Cole left the team to sign with Montreal in the off-season.
After Price played the puck, Cammalleri one-timed a Tomas Plekanec pass inside Cam Ward’s post 7:15 into the game to open the scoring. That gave the goaltender his first point of the season.
“Not every time that you rim the puck does somebody tap it over to Cammy and he puts it in the back of the net,” Price said.
Weber’s change-up shot on a power play got by Cam Ward at 15:15 of the first. The Hurricanes abandoned a wide area in their zone to allow Subban to set up in the slot and snap in his first goal on his 52nd shot of the season 6:13 into the second period.
Moen then banked in his sixth with 39 seconds left in the period.
It was a big night for the 25-year-old St-Denis, a native of nearby Greenfield Park, Que., who has been working his way slowly up the Canadiens system and finally got into a regular season NHL game. He got 13:42 of ice time, had two shots and was plus-1. St-Denis also took two minor penalties.
“I had a lot more ice time than I expected,” he said. ”I played with Weber and I think we did a good job. I played in four exhibition games and lost them all, so it’s great to get the win.”
Notes: Andrei Kostitsyn is also injured for Montreal. … Joni Pitkanen, stuck on 499 career games played, missed a third game for Carolina with a lower body injury.