(CANADIENS.COM) If the Islanders, consciously or not, have come to realize a nemesis between the pipes in recent years, his name would be Jose Theodore. Thursday night, they were reminded why.
Theodore was magnificent in notching his second shutout of the year to match his total from a season ago, turning aside 34 shots in leading the Canadiens to a 3-0 blanking of New York. The Montreal netminder, who has now allowed a total of eight goals in six starts, lowered his goals-against average to 1.34 with the performance. Of his 19 career shutouts, five have come against the Islanders, the most against any single team in the NHL.
The win marked the Canadiens’ fourth in five games at the Bell Centre on the year, and lifted their overall record to 5-2-0-0. Montreal’s fourth win at home a season ago wasn’t registered until Nov. 16.
The Islanders’ loss snapped New York’s unbeaten streak at four games, moving Steve Stirling’s squad to 3-2-1-0.
“I’m proud of the work we accomplished as a team,” said Theodore modestly. “Our third and fourth trios, who played mostly against the [Alexei] Yashin line, limited those guys to not much. Joe [Juneau]’s line was even able to chip in with a goal. You might not see those lines as much, but they do a heck of a job for us.”
The visitors’ top trio of Yashin, Mariusz Czerkawski, and Oleg Kvasha had 14 of their team’s shots, nine of which came in a third period where New York rifled a whopping 17 shots in Theodore’s direction. Czerkawski, who the Canadiens acquired in 2002 yet released in the summer after a disappointing campaign, sent his team’s final shot at Theodore in the game’s closing minute.
“In the third period, we allowed a lot of scoring chances, but overall we played pretty great,” the netminder conceded. “We were just trying to keep the puck out of the net and protect the lead. A shutout is just a bonus.”
As for his ongoing success against the Isles, Theodore shrugged.
“It’s just a coincidence,” he said.
Coincidence or not, Theodore’s recent efforts coupled with the Canadiens’ new defensive system have combined to cause headaches for opposing offenses. Though they entered the game trailing the Lighting 1.50 to 1.48 for lowest goals-against average in the league, following the contest they sat alone in first place in that regard, holding a microscopic GAA of 1.28.
Throw Montreal’s Oct. 9 opener against Ottawa – a 5-2 loss – out the window and the numbers are even more impressive: In their past six games the Canadiens have held opponents to a ridiculous four tallies, a feat good for a GAA of 0.67.
“The numbers, certainly, are encouraging,” said Claude Julien. “It’s all about finding a way to win. We want to improve. I felt that our third period tonight was better than our third period [Monday] against Detroit. [The Islanders] were shooting often, but they were shooting from far.”
As the Canadiens continue their surge into the upper echelon of the NHL standings, it’s becoming apparent that Julien’s players are buying into what he’s preaching, perhaps giving up on personal agendas for the good of the team.
“I said on the bench, with five minutes left, that it wasn’t about scoring another goal, [it was that] we mustn’t keep the puck deep in our own end, and that we couldn’t get caught three guys down,” Julien revealed. “The guys are really understanding the fact that winning is more important than anything else at this stage.”
Despite the focus on defense in the waning moments of regulation, Montreal nevertheless closed out the scoring on an exceptional effort from Andreas Dackell late in the game. Racing into the Islanders’ zone after a puck that was being played by Rick DiPietro, Dackell picked the goaltender’s pocket and squeaked around the side of the net for a neat wraparound goal.
The Swede’s marker was complemented by earlier scores from Yanic Perreault and Marcel Hossa. Perreault gave the Canadiens all the offense they would need at 5:25 of the first, failing on a shot from the point that was picked up by Michael Ryder and fed back to Perreault after the centerman had swooped down low and looped back into almost the same position. His second attempt was true, giving Montreal a 1-0 lead.
“The Islanders are a team that has been playing real well defensively since the beginning of the year, and I think that by taking the lead we pushed them to open up a little bit,” Perreault observed. “That’s probably how we got our second and third goals. We were able to come on strong in the first, and it’s easier for us to play when we have the lead.”
Hossa’s insurance came with two minutes remaining in the middle frame. After separating from Sean Bergenheim in front of the net, Hossa was left alone to one-time a pass from Mike Ribeiro past DiPietro.
The Canadiens will wrap up their longest homestand of the season with a Saturday night tilt against the Senators. Captain Saku Koivu may see his first action of the season in the contest after missing seven games with a strained right knee.
The significance of a potential 5-1 run at the Bell Centre isn’t lost on the home team.
“You know, we didn’t want to look too far ahead, but after that first game in Ottawa, we knew that we didn’t play that well and that we wanted to bounce back,” Perreault said. “We knew we had a little stretch at home and now, especially early in the year, it’s time to put a few wins together if we want to have a chance to be in the playoffs.”
NOTES: Ribeiro remained the team’s pacesetter with seven points through seven games… D Stephane Quintal missed a shift in the third period after taking a shot off his nose. He returned to the ice bloodied but none the worse for wear… D Francis Bouillon and C Chris Higgins were healthy scratches for the Canadiens… C Jan Bulis earned his first point of the year when he registered an assist on Dackell’s goal. The helper moved Bulis from minus-1 to even on the year, moving the entire Montreal roster to even or better as a whole.