MONTREAL – Rookie Matt D’Agostini is making the most of his chance to play in the NHL.
The 22-year-old from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., had a goal and an assist in the Montreal Canadiens 6-2 romp over the listless New York Rangers on Thursday night, which gave him three points in as many games since he was called up from American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs on Friday.
He has given coach Guy Carbonneau no reason to bring back struggling youngsters Guillaume Latendresse and Sergei Kostitsyn, who have been healthy scratches the last two games.
“I’d like to think so,” said D’Agostini, about putting pressure on Canadiens management to keep him in the NHL. “We’re not short of guys here, so anything that will keep me in the lineup. . .
“This was a good one tonight.”
It earned him a young player’s dream, being selected as first star in a game broadcast on Hockey Night In Canada, as it was the 99th anniversary of the Canadiens’ founding.
“I’ve been waiting a couple of years, trying to squeak my way into the lineup,” said D’Agostini, who was the Bulldogs’ scoring leader before his call-up. “It’s fun to play in front of crowd like this.
“They’re so passionate. Hamilton’s a great place to play, but they’re not passionate like they are here.”
It was also a big game for Montreal’s fourth line, as Maxim Lapierre and Steve Begin each had a goal and an assist and enforcer Georges Laraque got his first two points as a Canadien.
Andrei Kostitsyn, Alex Tanguay and Robert Lang also scored for Montreal (15-6-4), which has won all three games to start its seven-game homestand and has only one regulation time loss in its last eight games.
Markus Naslund and Nigel Dawes scored for the Rangers (18-9-2), who looked to have left their legs behind after a 3-2 shootout win 24 hours earlier over the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Atlantic Division leaders have not won in regulation in five games, although three of those were shootout wins.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist called the performance disappointing.
“It’s mind-boggling how we can be so good one period and completely fall apart the next,” he said. “That’s why we have a long way to go to be a top team – we’re just not consistent enough.”
Rangers defenceman Wade Redden left the game early in the second period and did not return. He said he tweaked a leg muscle, but the injury does not appear to be serious.
D’Agostini was called up because of injuries, but stayed even after Tanguay and Laraque returned because Kostitsyn had found himself in coach Guy Carbonneau’s doghouse for undisciplined play while Latendresse was in a slump.
Carbonneau put the speedy right-winger on a line with captain Saku Koivu and sharp-shooting Andrei Kostitsyn and it has worked. Kostitsyn has a goal in each of the last three games.
“As a young player, you have the seize the chance when you get it and that’s what he’s doing,” the coach said of D’Agostini. “We were looking for a spark, some energy, and he’s given us that.
“He doesn’t look out of place. He has NHL speed and an NHL shot. Is that a problem for other people or for me? Of course, but it’s never a problem when a player comes in and plays well and puts pressure on other people.”
For their 99th anniversary, the Canadiens wore jerseys from the year of their first Stanley Cup in 1915-16, which were a darker red than today’s sweaters, as well as a different style of gloves and solid blue pants. Goalie Carey Price wore brown-coloured pads and gloves.
They seemed to like the new apparel as they shot out to a 3-0 first-period lead, outshooting New York 15-7 in the period and 39-20 overall.
Kostitsyn scored at 9:52 when he raced to the net and tipped D’Agostini’s pass over Lundqvist. Lapierre shot down the right side and slipped the puck to Begin for a tap-in goal 55 seconds later on which Laraque earned his first point.
Lundqvist complained to no avail that Tom Kostopoulos was interfering with his stick as Tanguay banked his ninth of the season in off him at 17:37 after some intense checking in the Ranger zone.
Laraque got his second point as he got the puck to Begin for a shot behind the Rangers defence and Lapierre followed in to score 3:35 into the second frame.
Then the Rangers struck back, as Naslund redirected Paul Mara’s wrist shot from the point in off the post for his 10th of the season on a power play at 13:02 and Dawes tapped in Nikolai Zherdev’s pass on a counterattack at 18:43.
Montreal restored a three-goal edge only 49 seconds into the third period as Lang tipped in an Andrei Markov pass at the side of the net.
D’Agostini, who had a team-high six shots and nearly 16 minutes of ice time, finished it off with a goal from the slot with 50 seconds left to play.
It was also a strong game for defenceman Josh Gorges, who was plus-4, and a weak one for Naslund and Gomez, who were each minus-4.
Laraque could only smile as he was surrounded by reporters after the game.
“It’s not the first time I got two points in a game,” the veteran said. “It’s not a miracle.
“Our line wasn’t scoring before, but lately it’s starting to go in. We’re getting to know each other.”
Canadiens captain Saku Koivu dropped the gloves with Gomez in the second period, but both were given double minors. Koivu remains without a fighting major in his career.
Notes – Rangers stars of the past Andy Bathgate, Harry Howell, Rod Gilbert, Ron Greschner and Brad Park took part in a pre-game ceremony with a handful of Canadiens old-timers to honour the long rivalry between the two Original Six clubs. . . The Canadiens, founded Dec. 4, 1909, inaugurated Centennial Plaza outside the Bell Centre on Thursday afternoon.. . Roman Hamrlik played his 1,100th NHL game and Lang his 900th for Montreal. . . Defenceman Ryan O’Byrne sat out a third game in a row for Montreal. . . Blair Betts and Dan Fritsche didn’t dress for New York.