UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Alex Auld had gone nine months since his last NHL victory. It’s not as bad as it might appear because the veteran goalie only played four games in that long span.
Auld made 30 saves in his season debut with workhorse goalie Carey Price getting a rare night off, and Benoit Pouliot and Travis Moen scored in the third period for the Montreal Canadiens, who beat the New York Islanders 3-1 on Friday night for their fourth straight victory.
The 29-year-old Auld, who hadn’t won since Jan. 29, beat the Islanders for the first time in five starts. He didn’t show much rust despite not playing since March 6 while with the New York Rangers.
“First games, you have that deposit of nervous energy that comes with a new group and a new team,” Auld said. “You have to control that emotion and make sure it’s not too high.
His best stop came 4:15 into the second period when he thwarted Matt Moulson’s short-handed breakaway.
“I’ve been feeling good and feeling ready,” Auld said. “I waited like this before so it was nothing new for me. You want to play and help the team win and hopefully get another shot.”
The Canadiens were locked in a tight, tied game in the third when Pouliot and Jeff Halpern connected for a precision passing play that put Montreal back on top. Pouliot, the trail man on a 3-on-2 rush, took a back pass from Halpern from the right circle dot and snapped a shot past goalie Dwayne Roloson 7:19 into the third.
“I was yelling at him to pass,” Pouliot said. “He did a great play and he heard me at the last minute when the ‘D’ closed up on him. It was a perfect pass.”
Moen deflected a pass from captain Brian Ginota for an insurance goal with 1:49 left.
Montreal swept the home-and-home series from the Islanders, and handed New York its first regulation loss at Nassau Coliseum (2-1-1) and third consecutive loss overall. The Canadiens, who have won six of seven, are 11-0-3 against the Islanders since the start of the 2007-08 season.
Tomas Plekanec scored for the third straight game to give the Canadiens (7-2-1) a 1-0 lead in the first period. Matt Martin answered in the second for the Islanders with his first NHL goal. Roloson made 23 saves, but lost Montreal for the second time in three nights.
Martin got the Islanders even with 3:15 left in the second when he took a perfect feed from Frans Nielsen from the end boards and one-timed a shot from the slot past Auld.
“The coaches tell me to get in front of the net, so that’s what I do,” the 21-year-old Martin said. “The goal feels great, but it would have been better if we won.”
In the closing seconds of the period, Martin was finishing up a hardworking shift in which he landed several hits but then had to deal with six-foot-seven Hal Gill, who came in to protect his teammates. Martin dropped the gloves first and then held on.
Montreal was outshot 13-4 in the second, but was successful on the defensive end in killing New York’s 5-on-3 power play that lasted for 1:43 midway through the frame. The short-handed situation was made more difficult by the fact that the penalties were committed by Gill and fellow defenceman P.K. Subban, who were both whistled for interference against John Tavares, the Islanders’ leading goal scorer.
“That was a huge point in the game,” Auld said. “If you kill it, you get a lot of momentum.”
The Canadiens got off to a fast start and took a 1-0 lead in the first period when Plekanec scored his fifth of the season at 2:42—just 18 seconds into a power play. Michael Cammalleri’s shot was blocked in front by defenceman Mark Eaton, and the puck caromed to Plekanec, who finished off a stuff-in from the left post.
Montreal kept up the pressure, but neither team could generate much offence on a tough ice surface, that produced many bouncing pucks and several flubbed shots. Some players even fell in spots. The Canadiens held a 9-2 shots edge 10 minutes into the game, but New York countered with an 18-7 spurt over the next 30 minutes through the second period.
“Credit them for doing some things really well,” Cammalleri said. “I think we would’ve liked to do some things better, but at the end of the day we’ll take a big two points on the road.”
NOTES: Price had played in the Canadiens’ first nine games. … Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said that D Andrei Markov (knee) is expected to make his season debut Saturday at home against Florida. … The Islanders assigned forward Rob Schremp (back) to Bridgeport (AHL) on a conditioning assignment. … Martin has three points in seven NHL games. … Islanders D Bruno Gervais made his season debut, but he played as a forward on a checking line in place of LW Trevor Gillies, who was scratched for the first time this season. … Auld hadn’t beaten the Islanders since Jan. 14, 2006.