BROSSARD, Que. – Colby Armstrong wasn’t brought to the Montreal Canadiens to score goals, but it was still a relief when one finally went in.
It took the 30-year-old until his 28th game to score in Montreal’s 2-1 victory over the Devils in New Jersey on Saturday night. The effect of the load lifted from his shoulders was evident in his upraised arms and beaming smile on the ice.
“Especially in the last five or so games before that I had quite a few good chances,” he said Monday. “I didn’t know whether to snap, or laugh, or what to do.
“But you keep chipping away. You know it’s going to come. I’ve been in that position before, where it’s taken a lot of games to get a goal. This is the longest I’ve ever gone, but it’s good to make it count in a close game like that.”
Armstrong patrols right wing on Montreal’s fourth line with Ryan White and Travis Moen. Together, they have four goals this season.
“We’re a good energy line,” he said. “We try to wear out their defence with a lot of offensive zone cycling.
“We’ve had some chances. It’s nice to chip in.”
It’s hard to imagine that Armstrong was once a decent scorer. He had seasons of 16 and 12 goals early in his career with Pittsburgh and a career-high 22 as an Atlanta Thrasher in 2008-09.
But after signing as a free agent with Toronto in 2010, his production fell to eight in 50 games in 2010-11 and one in 29 games last season before he had his contract bought out.
Montreal inked him to a one-year deal on the recommendation of new coach Michel Therrien, who worked with Armstrong in the Penguins’ system.
He joined a team that was in the basement of the NHL Eastern Conference last season but is now battling for first place with a 19-5-4 record.
The Canadiens take a five-game winning streak into a home game Tuesday night against Buffalo.
Part of the team’s success has been balanced scoring from it’s top three lines and help on the attack from the defence.
A year ago, if the top unit of David Desharnais with Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole wasn’t scoring, almost no one did.
This season, Tomas Plekanec’s line has been the most productive, with Desharnais’ unit close behind and with Lars Eller’s third line also contributing. Rookie Brendan Gallagher has replaced the departed Cole on Desharnais’ right side.
“When you’re winning, you’re doing things right,” said Eller. “The good thing about it is that everybody is chipping in.
“We’re not relying on one or two guys to steal the games for us. Of course (goalie) Carey Price is big for us, but as far as players go, we’re a deep team and a new line can step up each night and make a difference. That’s a strength we can be proud of.”
The Canadiens have a chance to pad their record with three games against teams currently out of playoff position this week. They face Buffalo on Tuesday and Saturday at home, with a visit to the Islanders in New York on Thursday night.
However, they were beaten 5-4 in overtime in their last meeting with the Sabres in Buffalo on Feb. 2 and their most recent loss was a 6-3 decision on Long Island the last time they faced the Islanders on March 5.
“You don’t go into any game nowadays thinking you should win,” said captain Brian Gionta. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing.”
Michel Ryder was back at practice after missing a game with a lower body injury and will be back on Plekanec’s left wing.
Injured players Brandon Prust, Rene Bourque and Yannick Weber skated separately and all three are getting closer to returning, although Therrien gave none of them a timeline. Defenceman Raphael Diaz (concussion) has not resumed skating.
Therrien also confirmed the Canadiens have no intention of returning rookie Alex Galchenyuk to the junior Sarnia Sting, even though the 19-year-old looks to have hit a wall with only one assist in his last 10 games.
Buffalo returned Mikhail Grigorenko to junior hockey and New Jersey did the same with Stefan Matteau this week.
“We have a development plan with Alex and we’re following the plan,” said Therrien. “He has earned his ice time.
“He’s doing well. We never thought about sending him back to junior.”