MONTREAL – Carey Price has been getting pelted with so many pucks of late, his body couldn’t adjust to the lack of action he saw Monday night.
Price made 14 saves to win a dull, defensive struggle as the Montreal Canadiens took a 3-1 victory from the freefalling Philadelphia Flyers.
The two teams combined for 28 shots on goal, establishing a new Canadiens mark for the fewest total shots in a game as the franchise began its second century of existence.
“It was definitely different because I’m not used to that, but it was nice to be able to just sit back and watch us play,” said Price, who had faced an average of 34.8 shots per game in his previous nine starts.
“In the second period I actually started to get cold, I had to bundle up. You can build up a sweat from the anxiety or whatever, and then it just sits on you.”
Despite the lack of work, Price continued his tremendous run since allowing five goals in a 5-4 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers on Nov. 3. In his 13 starts since then, Price has a 7-4-2 record with a .932 save percentage and 1.96 goals against average, and the Canadiens scored a total of two goals in his four regulation losses over that stretch.
Considering how badly he struggled in the second half of last season and earlier this year, it is quite a turnaround. But Price says he never doubted he would find his game again.
“I haven’t really put much focus onto it, I just kept moving forward,” Price said. “I knew it was going to turn around eventually, and here we are today.”
Andrei Kostitsyn, Mike Cammalleri and Marc-Andre Bergeron scored while Tomas Plekanec had two assists for the Canadiens (14-14-2), who won their second straight to pull even with the Tampa Bay Lightning for eighth in the Eastern Conference with 30 points.
Montreal coach Jacques Martin has been trying all season to fight his label as a defensive-minded coach, but he couldn’t help but make light of that reputation after the game.
“I know, you’re all going to call me a defensive specialist,” Martin told the media before anyone even asked a question. “I spent all weekend coming up with that game plan.”
Danny Briere got the lone goal for the Flyers (13-13-1), who lost their fifth straight and eighth of nine in their second game under new head coach Peter Laviolette.
Brian Boucher had 10 saves for the Flyers to lose his third straight start.
Over their current five-game skid, the Flyers have scored only five goals and allowed 19 while the power play is 0-for-19.
“I think we’re overthinking our offensive game right now,” said Flyers winger Ian Laperriere. “We want to win, we don’t want to get on a roll like this. We’re here to win games, so when you struggle it’s painful and nobody goes home happy. You think about it 24/7.”
The Canadiens penalty kill had another perfect performance on four opportunities, and has now killed off 15 straight opposition power plays over the last four games. What used to be a major weakness for the team has suddenly turned into one of its strengths.
“There are several factors,” Martin said to explain his team’s success. “But no doubt, it’s been much more effective.”
The game started at a snail’s pace as neither team showed very much jump in the first. The Canadiens managed only one shot on goal by Hal Gill about six minutes in, and even that appeared to be deflected wide in front.
It was the second time this season the Canadiens managed only one shot in a period, and they won the first time they did it as well with a 2-1 overtime victory in Buffalo on Oct. 3.
“It was definitely awkward,” Cammalleri said of the mood in the room in the first intermission. “I guess we played possum a little bit, but you don’t want to do that. I don’t think we were great tonight, and I don’t think they’d be happy with their game either. So I think we’ll just stick with the positive, we won the game.”
Just over a minute later, the Flyers got their first shot of the game, and Briere made it count. He poked an errant pass away from Paul Mara in the Philadelphia end and broke for the net. With Ryan O’Byrne draped all over him, Briere managed to lift a shot over Price’s glove for his 11th of the season at 7:28 to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead.
The Habs second shot of the game came from Plekanec just before the six-minute mark of the second, drawing derisive cheers from the sellout Bell Centre crowd of 21,273.
But about 30 seconds later, Plekanec had the puck behind the Flyers goal and found Kostitsyn in front, who fanned on his shot but still knuckleballed it past Boucher for his third of the year at 6:20 to tie it up 1-1.
Montreal went ahead 2-1 at 14:04 on a great play by Maxim Lapierre. Coming down on a 2-on-1 with Cammalleri, Lapierre used a toe drag to get around a sliding Braydon Coburn before feeding Cammalleri for his 16th of the year and his eighth in the last nine games.
“I think it would have been harder for me to miss the net from there than to hit the net,” Cammalleri said.
Bergeron got his sixth of the season on a power play at 11:05 of the third, one-timing a Roman Hamrlik feed past an unscreened Boucher from a sharp angle to make it 3-1 Habs.
Notes: Habs D Paul Mara did not come out for the second period after suffering what appeared to be a shoulder injury on a hit by Flyers tough guy Riley Cote late in the first. Martin said Mara would not travel with the team to Ottawa for Tuesday’s game against the Senators. aThe Canadiens franchise record for fewest shots in a game is 12, which has happened twice, and the Habs lost both times. So Monday’s game at least tied the franchise record for fewest shots in a win. aHabs tough guy Georges Laraque earned the 100th assist of his career on Cammalleri’s goal. aFlyers enforcer Daniel Carcillo served the first of a four-game suspension for a sucker punch on Washington’s Matt Bradley on Saturday night. aFlyers winger Simon Gagne missed his 18th game with an abdominal injury, while centres Blair Betts (shoulder) and Darroll Powe (shoulder) were also out for Philadelphia. aHabs winger Sergei Kostitsyn was in the lineup after suffering a minor leg injury during Friday night’s 5-1 win over Boston. aThe Habs were without D Andrei Markov (ankle) and wingers Brian Gionta (foot) and Benoit Pouliot (wrist).