Garbutt scores first NHL goal, Lehtonen makes 31 saves as Stars blank Habs 3-0

MONTREAL – Slow starts have plagued the Montreal Canadiens of late and put a further damper on the club’s playoff chances Tuesday.

Ryan Garbutt scored his first NHL goal and Kari Lehtonen made 31 saves as the Dallas Stars shut out the Canadiens 3-0.

“We’re looking for a lot of energy to start game and keep things real simple and throw a lot of pucks at the net,” Canadiens head coach Randy Cunneyworth said. “We went for the longest time without a shot and you can’t be playing that way at that time, to get things started.”

Mike Ribeiro, in his regular-season return to Montreal, and Tom Wandell also scored for Dallas (30-26-4).

The Stars took control in the opening period, outshooting Montreal 15-6. The shot clock read 9-0 in favour of Dallas before the Canadiens recorded their first on goal at 8:14.

“Dallas was better than us, plain and simple, all the way through,” said Habs centre Lars Eller. “I can’t stand here and make a deeper analysis than that because that’s how simple it is.”

For a fifth straight game, the Habs saw their opponent strike first when Garbutt, just called up from the minors, snapped a nifty shot from the faceoff circle over a crouched Montreal goalie Carey Price.

The Canadiens, who are seven points back of Toronto for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, had their chances to even things up in the second period when Dallas was whistled for four consecutive penalties. On a hot streak of late with seven goals in their last 25 power-play opportunities, Montreal failed to score with the man advantage for just the second time in the last seven games.

“We fell short tonight. We get that next one, tie it up, it gives us life. But we couldn’t do that. We were reluctant at times to shoot it,” Cunneyworth said. “That’s what a power play has to do. We had plenty of opportunity but we just couldn’t pull it together to accomplish that.”

Ribeiro put the Stars up 2-0 at 4:32 of the third. Dallas defenceman Trevor Daley found the former Canadien with a cross-crease pass to the left of Price.

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Traded to Dallas in exchange for defenceman Janne Niinimaa on Sept. 30, 2006, Ribeiro had suited up for a pre-season contest at the Bell Centre this year but missed the Stars’ only regular-season visit to Montreal back in January 2010 due to injury.

He was booed on his goal but was cheered when he was named the game’s first star and offered a Jaromir Jagr-like salute to the crowd in recognition.

“I appreciated the applause and had a little fun with it,” Ribeiro said. “When you win, it’s always fun, especially in Montreal and it was pretty incredible tonight.”

Fellow ex-Hab Michael Ryder was happy to see his centre have an impact in his long-awaited return.

“He was feeling it tonight, that’s for sure. First time he’s been back here in a long time and he was pretty pumped to play,” Ryder said. “It was good to see him get that goal. It was a huge win for us tonight.”

Price stopped 33 shots for the Canadiens (24-27-10), who have dropped four of their last five after a four-game winning streak.

“If could point out one or two things, we could fix it. But it’s not one player, one thing or the power play—it’s a lot of things,” Eller said. “That’s not good enough. It’s everybody, every time, every shift. We play like this, we’re not even close to winning.”

Notes: Canadiens centre Tomas Plekanec missed the game with the flu while rookie Louis Leblanc returned after missing the last game for the same reason. … The Stars scratched forwards Jamie Benn (lower body) and Adam Burish, and defenceman Sheldon Souray (lower body). … Canadiens defenceman Chris Campoli’s penalty midway through the third period snapped a streak of five and a half periods without an infraction against Montreal. … Mathieu Darche left the game with what Cunneyworth said was flu-related dizziness. … The Stars haven’t lost when leading after two periods since October 31, 2009, going 59-0-6 since then.