PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Montreal Canadiens didn’t take long to establish they were more ready to play than Pittsburgh.
Tomas Plekanec and Travis Moen scored in the opening minutes of the first and second periods, and Carey Price made 26 saves to blank the flat Penguins 3-0 on Saturday.
It was Price’s eighth shutout this season and 12th of his career, and he has allowed a total of seven goals in starting each of the past six games with a .965 save percentage.
“It was an Exhibit-A road game,” Price said. “We cleaned up rebounds, anything I left out there, and played excellent all-around defence. You could tell our guys came to the rink with a focus today, and everybody executed. I think we’re a tough team to play against when we get an early lead.”
Montreal is 21-2-3 when leading after the first period and 27-6-5 when scoring first.
The Canadiens (38-24-7), two points behind fifth-place Boston in the Eastern Conference, have won six of their past seven.
A five-game winning streak had been broken with a 4-1 defeat Thursday at St. Louis, and the team also was coping with the loss earlier in the week of winger Max Pacioretty, who sustained a severe concussion and fractured vertebra from a hard hit by Boston’s Zdeno Chara.
This was the game, some players said, that put the Canadiens back on track.
“We felt it was important for us to come out strong right away,” Montreal winger Mike Cammalleri said. “After our last game and everything else that happened, we really wanted to get it going.”
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma saw the opposite in this team.
“We weren’t really able to get into it, and that was obvious from the way we executed,” Bylsma said. “You could see that when they got a faceoff goal right away. They didn’t have to work very hard to get that.”
The first of Montreal’s quick strikes came 46 seconds into the game on Plekanec’s 21st goal, good for second on the team. Plekanec cleanly beat Pittsburgh’s Jordan Staal on the faceoff, then slipped around Staal and backhanded a pass from Cammalleri behind goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. It looked like a set play, but Cammalleri wasn’t saying.
“We might want to use it again,” he said, grinning.
The Canadiens struck even earlier in the second period, just 24 seconds in, on Moen’s one-timer. The play began with Scott Gomez intercepting a breakout pass by Pittsburgh defenceman Kris Letang, and Brian Gionta fed Moen atop the right circle.
It was Moen’s first goal since Dec. 10, ending a 38-game drought.
“It’s just a great pass,” Moen said of Gionta’s assist. “I opened up, closed my eyes and put it on net.”
Cammalleri made it 3-0 at 6:51, going down to one knee to redirect Jeff Halpern’s sharp pass by Fleury.
That was three goals in 12 shots, and Bylsma replaced Fleury with Brent Johnson, who would stop all eight shots he faced.
“It was just to try to alter the course of the game,” Bylsma said of his move.
Montreal took three of four games from Pittsburgh in the season series, including both at the Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins (39-22-8), missing injured stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, had won two in a row for the first time since early February coming in and had displayed quality defence and a relentless work ethic for more than a month before all the lapses and lethargic play Saturday.
“We just came out flat,” winger James Neal said. “They got a quick goal on us, and then we could find that jump. Giving up early-period goals takes the air out of your tires, I guess. It takes the crowd out of it.”
Michalek was on the ice for Montreal’s first and third goals.
“At the beginning of the first two periods, we didn’t play well, and they took advantage,” Michalek said. “We just didn’t have our game.”
Cammalleri had a goal and assist, and there was nothing new about that. He torched Pittsburgh for seven goals in the Canadiens’ seven-game playoff victory last spring, and his career regular-season totals against Pittsburgh are four goals and four assists in 10 games.
“Just lucky, I guess,” Cammalleri said. “I have a lot of respect for those guys, and it just happens that I have some goals against them.”
Notes: The overflow crowd of 18,310 marked the Penguins’ 200th consecutive sellout, including 165 at their previous home, Mellon Arena, and 29 playoff games. Their record in those 200 games is 123-58-19, and the total attendance was 3,437,909. … Moen’s goal was the 11,000th in Montreal’s storied history. … Pittsburgh winger Alexei Kovalev, formerly with Montreal, has one goal and no assists in the seven games since the Penguins acquired him from Ottawa. He failed to register a shot Saturday, missing the net twice. … Bylsma said he intends to keep Kovalev on a line with Neal and centre Mark Letestu “for quite a while.”