MONTREAL – Michael Ryder is making Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin look like a genius.
A two-goal performance in a 4-1 victory over the slumping Winnipeg Jets on Thursday gave Ryder nine in 17 games since Bergevin got the veteran right winger and a third round draft pick from the Dallas Stars for Erik Cole in a Feb. 26 trade.
Many questioned the deal at the time, but Cole was struggling in Montreal and Ryder has been hot from the outset with eight goals and eight assists since returning to the city where he began his NHL career.
“I was used to the city and I knew a few guys here,” said Ryder, who left as a free agent for Boston four seasons ago and then signed with Dallas last summer. “It was my first time getting traded, so that was the biggest part of it all.
“But the guys welcomed me in and made me feel comfortable right away. I just tried to come in and do what I can to help the team keep winning.”
Ryder also set up a goal by rookie Alex Galcheyuk, while Brian Gionta had the other goal for Montreal (24-8-5).
Alexander Burmistrov got his first goal in 18 games for the Jets (18-19-2), who were swept on a three-game road trip to stretch their losing streak to five. Their anemic attack has scored six goals, only three of them by forwards, in the five losses.
With the defeat, Winnipeg gave up first spot in the Southwest Division to Washington and dropped out of playoff position—from third place to 10th—in the Eastern Conference.
The Jets have nine games left—seven of them at home—to try to claw their way back into a playoff spot. They start a six-game homestand Saturday against Philadelphia.
“It’s not like we don’t know what’s going on,” said coach Claude Noel. “I don’t think you can expect to lose five straight games and expect that things aren’t going to change.
“We know that if we continue down this road it isn’t good. That’s why there’s urgency. We’re running out of games. We know that.”
The Canadiens were coming off a 4-3 loss 24 hours earlier in Philadelphia, but as they have done consistently this season, they bounced back with a win. It was the third time they responded one day after a loss with a clear win.
“It was another great effort for us,” said Gionta. “Back to back games are not easy in this league and we’ve done a great job on them this year, especially when we’ve lost the first one.”
It was a special night for the veteran back-up goalie Peter Budaj, who made 33 saves to improve to 6-1-1. He had his father, a brother and an uncle over from Slovakia among the crowd of 21,273 at the Bell Centre.
“My uncle never saw me play before, so that was fun,” he said. “I was glad I was able to get the start at the Bell Centre in front of a home crowd.
“I’m very appreciative of that, and the team played great in front of me.”
Winnipeg struck first as Burmistrov was left unguarded on the left side to bang Grant Clitsome’s pass into an open net 8:16 into the game.
Montreal got it back on a power play at 10:47 as Ryder was alone at the edge of the crease to push Gionta’s rebound past Ondrej Pavelec.
Ryder got his second of the night has he fired the rebound of a P.K. Subban shot past a screened Pavelec 2:03 into the second frame. Subban has eight points in his last five contests.
Gionta was at the net and had Lars Eller’s shot go in off him on a power play at 5:51. The Canadiens captain said the shot went in off his “upper thigh.
“I apologized (to Eller) for getting in the way, but I’ll take it any time,” the five-foot-seven Gionta said. “Good thing I’m tall, eh?”
The Jets felt they had a power-play goal early in the third, but Tobias Enstrom’s score was called back because Blake Wheeler had bumped Budaj in the crease.
Galchenyuk sealed the victory when he was at the doorstep to lift in a puck flipped into the crease area by Ryder 7:43 into the third.
“We’re in a funk and when you get trapped into those funks, things start to go awry and you have to try to get back on a winning streak,” said Jets forward Evander Kane, who thrashed Alexei Emelin in a third period fight but got an extra 10 minutes when he pulled off the Montreal defenceman’s helmet and nearly hit him with it.
“That happens all the time. You’re trying to get the other guy’s helmet off and sometimes it gets caught in your hand when you’re trying to throw a punch. That’s what happened. I’m not going to feel sorry about that.”
Dustin Byfuglien started the game at forward, was switched back to defence and sat a spell on the bench. And Noel didn’t like how he played on the Galchenyuk goal.
“I don’t think he was very effective up front,” Noel said. “This isn’t the first time they put a puck at the net and he’s standing beside the guy without taking his stick, so after a while, it just can’t continue down that road. You have to make changes.”
The Canadiens edged the Jets 4-3 in Montreal on Jan. 29. Winnipeg closes out the regular season at home against Montreal on April 25.
A team called the Winnipeg Jets has not won in Montreal since the former franchise (now the Phoenix Coyotes) did it on March 14, 1985.
Notes: Enstrom played his 400th NHL game. . . Mike Santorelli, claimed on waivers from Florida, played his first Jets game as Nik Antropov sat out with a lower body injured sustained Tuesday on Long Island. . . Clitsome returned from one game with an eye injury. . . Montreal was without Tomas Plekanec, who has a suspected groin injury. Gabriel Dumont was recalled from AHL Hamilton but didn’t dress as Ryan White returned from a six-game injury layoff.