MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens were waiting for Lars Eller’s offensive side to show, and when it did the Danish centre exploded for a five-point night.
Eller got his fourth goal of the game with a spin-o-rama move on a penalty shot and added an assist Wednesday as the Montreal Canadiens picked up only their second win in nine games with a 7-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets.
“Tonight, everything went in,” said the 22-year-old, who has five goals and two assists in four games since, due to some careless play, he was made a healthy scratch for a 4-0 loss in Winnipeg on Dec. 22.
“I knew I had to make much better decisions out there and play a more simple game,” he said. “Focus on the small things and the goals will come. I knew they’d come.”
Hats rained down onto the Bell Centre ice after Eller, whose previous high was two points in a game, took a feed from Andrei Kostitsyn and scored into an open side for Montreal’s third goal in a 50-second span early in the third period.
Then at the 11-minute mark, Eller was grabbed from behind by Ron Hainsey on a break to the net and was awarded a penalty shot. Eller skated to the crease, did a spin-o-rama move and slid a backhander past Chris Mason before tumbling over the goalie for his fourth of the night.
Teammate Michael Cammalleri called it a “can-fidence” move, which he explained took “more than confidence.”
Eller just said that after seeing the Canadiens stopped so many times this season during shoot-outs, he would try “something different.
“Things were rolling for us. Tonight, we played to win instead of playing afraid to lose.”
Josh Gorges, Tomas Kaberle and Cammalleri also scored for the Canadiens (15-18-7), who got their second win in eight games and the first on home ice for new coach Randy Cunneyworth.
Tim Stapleton, Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd scored for Winnipeg (19-15-5), which had a three-game winning streak stopped. Jets starter Ondrej Pavelec was pulled at 6:44 of the third after surrendering six goals on 24 shots.
The Jets were coming off a hot December in which they won 10-of-14 games including 9-2-1 at home. But their road record is now 5-9-4.
Coach Claude Noel, whose team plays in Toronto on Thursday night before stops in Buffalo and Boston, was not impressed.
“We didn’t play with the same heart, determination, passion, fire that we played with the whole month before,” he said. “Where was out checking game? It wasn’t there.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with (playing on the road). I don’t think that’s the issue.”
With a goal and an assist, Wheeler now has four goals and five helpers during a six-game points streak and has tied Evander Kane for the team scoring lead with 30.
It was big night for Cunneyworth, who has been under fire as the first Canadiens coach not able to speak French in four decades, plus a losing streak, but he wasn’t taking any of the spotlight away from Eller or his team after his first home win.
He laughed as he began his post-game meeting media conference in French with: “Je suis tres content pour Lars (I’m very happy for Lars).
“He was the show tonight. These days, not many players in the league score four goals.”
Eller was the first Canadien to get four in a game since Jan Bulis in 2006 and the first to do it on home ice since Brian Bellows in 1993.
The Jets got the start they wanted when Montreal defenceman Raphael Diaz lost an edge and Kane took the puck to the net. Stapleton followed up on the rush to tap in the rebound at 3:41.
Gorges, in his first game since signing a US$23.4-million, six-year contract extension, put a high wrist shot through traffic past Pavalec to tie at 13:24. Only 43 seconds later, Kyle Wellwood was stripped of the puck at the blue-line and Eller skated in to score.
Kaberle broke a 73-game goal drought when he took a feed from Travis Moen and slapped in his first as a member of the Canadiens 5:32 into the second.
Wheeler got one back on a power play at 17:51 when he tipped in Zach Bogosian’s point shot from the slot.
The Jets defence was in disarray as Eller banged in a Moen pass from the edge of the crease 2:41 into the third. Cammalleri fired a puck into a crowd in front and saw it go in at 3:03 before Eller got his third of the game at 3:31
Eller joined Montreal in one of the team’s least popular trades of recent years when the Canadiens sent playoff hero goaltender Jaroslav Halak two seasons ago to the St. Louis Blues, who had drafted him 13th overall in 2007.
The six-foot-two 200-pounder has proven to be a strong defensive player, but the offensive side has been slow in coming. His four goals gave him seven for the season, matching his total in 77 games last season.
“I’m sure he feels good about those goals, he worked hard for them,” said Cunneyworth. “That line (with Moen and Kostitsyn) clicked. They were looking for each other and finding each other.
“We knew and Lars knew that he’s a good player. If he’s consistent in his work habits I’m sure he’ll score his share of goals.”
Cunneyworth dressed seven defencemen and only 11 forwards, using workhorse right winger Erik Cole on two lines. The veteran led the team with 27:04 of ice time and had two assists.
Rookie Louis Leblanc was returned to AHL Hamilton after the game. The Canadiens expect to have captain Brian Gionta back from an injury for their next game Saturday against Tampa Bay.
Teams named the Winnipeg Jets have not won in Montreal since March 14, 1985, and have lost 14 in a row.
Notes: Gorges’ goal was Montreal’s 100th of the season. They are the 14th of the 15 Eastern Conference teams to reach 100. … Randy Jones returned to the Winnipeg lineup from an upper-body problem to play for only the third time in 26 games. He was the only Jet who was not a minus for the game, going plus-1. … Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little remain sidelined. … Montreal scratched Yannick Weber.