SAN JOSE, Calif. – When Tommy Wingels scored a fluky, short-handed goal in the opening minutes, it was clear this was going to be San Jose’s night.
Wingels scored two goals and Antti Niemi shut Montreal out for the second time this season in the Sharks’ 4-0 victory over the Canadiens on Saturday night.
Wingels opened the scoring with a short-handed goal after Peter Budaj misplayed a shot from centre ice and added another on a deflection to lead the way for the Sharks.
“That was a fortunate bounce for us,” Wingels said of his first goal. “We’ll take it. It kind of gave us some momentum in the first there.”
Matt Nieto also scored and Logan Couture had a goal and two assists for the Sharks, who have won seven straight home games against Montreal since last losing here to the Canadiens in 1999.
Niemi made 27 saves to follow up his 2-0 victory in Montreal in October with another shutout as San Jose moved within four points of first-place Anaheim in the Pacific Division.
“We want to win our division,” Couture said. “That was one of our goals from the start of the year and we’re close.”
Budaj was knocked out after allowing two goals in less than 22 minutes as Montreal lost for the third time in four games on a road trip to Arizona and California.
“It was a frustrating game and a frustrating road trip,” captain Brian Gionta said. “We wanted something better out of it.”
San Jose took control of the game in a dominant second period, getting goals from Wingels and Nieto in the first half of the period to go up 3-0.
Wingels’ second goal of the game came when a point shot from Matt Nieto hit the inside of his leg on the way into the goal. That led coach Michel Therrien to give an early hook to Budaj, who allowed two goals on the first 11 shots.
The change to Dustin Tokarski failed to generate the spark Therrien was seeking as the Sharks continued to attack with the two-goal lead and expanded it when Patrick Marleau set up Nieto for a one-timer from the slot midway through the period.
Nieto set up Couture for his 18th goal in the opening minute of the third period to put the game out of reach.
Niemi, making consecutive starts for the first time since Feb. 1-3, was not tested often but was up to the task when challenged, including an early pad save on P.K. Subban and on a short-handed breakaway by Tomas Plekanec late in the third.
Niemi has struggled a bit of late and had his playing time cut back as San Jose started backup Alex Stalock in three of the first four games after the Olympic break. But he followed up a 5-3 win over Pittsburgh on Thursday night with another shutout against the Canadiens.
“Nemo had to make some saves early, and then he had to make a couple late to maintain the shutout,” coach Todd McLellan said. “I thought he was very calm, very solid again.”
The Sharks got a fortunate break to take a 1-0 lead early in the first period with James Sheppard in the penalty box for tripping. Couture shot the puck in from centre ice that got caught between Budaj’s pads.
Instead of freezing the puck for a faceoff, Budaj stood up and tried to play it but Wingels raced in and poked it into the net for San Jose’s second short-handed goal in as many games.
“We were on the power play and I wanted to play it right away to help and not have a faceoff in our own end,” Budaj said. “I didn’t have a look to see the player was coming. That’s my mistake.”
The Sharks weren’t nearly as effective on their three power plays that included 21 seconds of a two-man advantage. They struggled to get set up in the offensive zone and were sloppy with their passes, generating only one shot on goal in those three opportunities.
The power play has been a problem for San Jose in recent weeks with the team going 2-for-48 over the past 15 games.
NOTES: Sharks F Raffi Torres got called for boarding on a hard shoulder check into Lars Eller in the second period. Jarred Tinordi took exception and started a fight, negating any power play for the Canadiens. … Montreal D Douglas Murray got a warm ovation in his first game back in San Jose since being traded by the Sharks to Pittsburgh last March. He delivered an early hit on Nieto and also was on the receiving end of one from Brent Burns.