UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Montreal coach Jacques Martin said he regarded Andrei Markov’s leadership skills so much he made the defenceman an assistant captain before the season.
After missing more than two months with a leg injury, Markov brought more than just intangibles to his first game since October, scoring two of Montreal’s three-power play goals in the Canadiens’ 3-0 victory over the New York Islanders on Saturday night.
Jaroslav Halak made 40 saves for his first shutout of the season to help Montreal (16-18-3) snap a five-game losing streak and start a seven-game trip with momentum.
“He’s an all-star defenceman that has great vision and moves the puck well,” Martin said. “It’s nice to get a top player back. Those guys are hard to replace. His execution was really outstanding.”
Glen Metropolit scored Montreal’s final goal late in the third and former Islander Marc-Andre Bergeron picked up two assists.
Martin Biron countered with 25 saves, but the reeling Islanders (13-16-7) still lost for the sixth time in eight games. New York’s power play finished 0-for-6.
“We need to tweak things to make our power play and penalty killing a momentum-builder, as it should be,” Biron said.
Halak continued his season-long mastery over New York. Three of his seven wins have come at the Islanders’ expense.
“I wasn’t giving up many rebounds tonight,” Halak said. “We were great on the penalty killing blocking the shots. That helped a lot.”
Markov needed exactly 7:44 to shrug off the rust after missing 35 games, converting Montreal’s first power play chance off a scramble in front.
Markov returned to action after lacerated tendons in his left foot kept him out since the season opener. The all-star defenceman moved well enough in his return to capitalize on Islanders defenceman Jack Hillen’s holding penalty, marking Montreal’s first power-play goal in three games.
“Obviously. they were real ahead of us in special teams,” Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. “It’s not so much bad penalties as much as it executive of power play and penalty kill. Right now everything is going against us.”
Halak made 14 saves in the opening period to maintain the lead, stopping Richard Park to miss a short-handed breakaway before smothering Nate Thompson’s close-range wrist shot off a defensive zone turnover.
“Each win is a big win because after losing five in a row, we needed to win a hockey game,” Halak said.
Biron made a diving stick save on Max Pacioretty’s point-blank left post shot almost four minutes into the second to keep it close.
But Halak extended the Canadiens’ edge with the man advantage when he fired a laser from the top of the left circle 13:12 into the second.
Bergeron passed it off to Markov after his point shot was blocked. Markov then beat Biron on the glove-side for his first multi-goal game since Dec. 18, 2007, when he had a pair against Florida.
“They were looking to shoot as hard as you can,” Gordon said. “When teams are shooting hard, its harder to block shots, get rebounds and makes saves.”
Travis Moen’s high-sticking double-minor just 36 seconds into the final period put New York in position to make a run. The Islanders fired six shots in four minutes yet came up empty. Halak made 14 saves in the third, and Metropolit banged home Scott Gomez’s one-time pass 14 minutes into the third for the insurance marker.
“Our power play has been one of our strengths, just like our penalty killing,” Bergeron said. “Two more games before going home for Christmas, it’s already a key time in the year. We put ourselves in a hole so we can’t lay off.”
A heavy snowstorm helped to limit attendance to 7,842, though loud “Go Habs Go!” chants emanated from the Nassau Coliseum seats as Montreal fans heavily outnumbered Islanders fans.
“Our fans were like a sixth player on the ice,” Halak said.
New York couldn’t silence the road fans and have been outscored, 15-3, in its last three home games.
Biron is winless in his last six starts and has not posted a victory since Nov. 13 against Carolina.
“I appreciate all the guys are doing but in the end its more than getting a win for me,” Biron said. “It’s about getting wins for the team and going in the right direction. It isn’t coming easy right now.”
NOTES: Islanders D Bruno Gervais was back in the lineup after being benched in the club’s previous two games against the New York Rangers. LW Jeff Tambellini was a healthy scratch for a fifth straight game. … Markov paired with D Jaroslav Spacek on the blue line and logged 20:25 of ice time.