MONTREAL – Montreal Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau wanted to give his old linemate Bob Gainey a win on his special night, but the Columbus Blue Jackets had other ideas.
Pascal Leclaire, starting for the first time in his hometown, made 31 saves for his league-leading ninth shutout of the season as the Blue Jackets down the Canadiens 3-0 on a Saturday night in which Gainey’s No. 23 jersey was retired in a pre-game ceremony.
Asked if he was angry his team didn’t come through, Carbonneau said: “Yes, really, a lot. That’s what upset me the most.”
Rick Nash and Andrew Murray scored as the Jackets went up 2-0 on their first four shots against shaky rookie goaltender Carey Price, while Manny Malhotra added one in the third for Columbus (29-26-9), which was coming off a 3-2 shootout win in Ottawa.
The Canadiens (33-21-9) lost a second game in a row and dropped to three points behind Eastern Conference leader Ottawa.
Leclaire, who had 25 family and friends in the crowd of 21,273, helped the Jackets hold the NHL’s top power play to 0-for-6.
“It’s a nice story for the paper but the important thing was getting the win,” said Leclaire. “It’s pretty special.
“I grew up 20 minutes from here and I used to come to a lot of games, so it was great to be part of this. I think everyone enjoyed it.”
Before the game, a moving 90-minute ceremony saw Gainey’s jersey number lifted to the Bell Centre ceiling to honour his 16-year career as a player in the 1970s and ’80s, when he was on five Stanley Cup winning teams and was the league’s dominant defensive forward. Gainey is now general manager of the Canadiens.
His team came out of the gate strong, but fell behind on weak goaltending from Price. Carbonneau was not amused.
“I could accept losing and goals-against when the other team works for them, but when you give them away, it’s a different thing,” Carbonneau fumed. “I’ve never seen a team give up no shots. Shots are going to happen.”
Bet on veteran Cristobal Huet in to be in goal when the Canadiens end a four-game homestand on Tuesday night against Atlanta.
Carbonneau was also not pleased with defenceman Mike Komisarek, who was minus-2 and got only 14:09 of ice time, less than two-thirds of his usual action.
“It seemed like two shots, two goals,” said Komisarek. “Obviously, we’re not doing the job.”
Price can take heart in the fact that on the first goal, he was beaten by one of the NHL’s best snipers. Nash rushed down the left wing to take a pass from Michael Peca and score his 33rd of the season from a nearly impossibly tight angle 6:24 into the game.
Murray’s medium speed shot from the top of the left circle sailed between Price’s pads for only his fourth of the season at 10:01.
After that, Leclaire was flawless, while his defence kept the Canadiens shooters mainly on the outside, particularly as they killed a two-man advantage for 1:10 in the second period.
“What’s going on is that (Leclaire) is seeing less odd-man rushes, less scrambly hockey,” veteran defenceman Adam Foote said. “As well as our goaltender’s playing, we’re playing well defensively too.”
Malhotra stripped the puck from Maxim Lapierre at the Montreal blue-line, skated in and slipped the puck between Price’s legs at 16:42 of the third frame.
Late in the game, the crowd took to chanting “We Want Hossa,” a reference to reports that the Canadiens are trying to deal for Atlanta scoring star Marian Hossa.
Columbus centre Sergei Fedorov left the game in the second period with a charley horse in his right leg.
Notes – Montreal sat out Guillaume Latendresse, Mathieu Dandenault and Patrice Brisebois, as Tom Kostopoulos and Steve Begin returned to the lineup … Peca returned after missing one game for Columbus, while Derick Brassard, Dan Fritsche and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen were scratched … Newfoundland band Great Big Sea sang the national anthems.