The Montreal Canadiens don’t have the top-end talent of a Stanley Cup contender, but their formula is working so far.
The Canadiens put another early-season feather in their fedoras Saturday night at TD Garden, collecting a 3-0 win over their old rivals, the Bruins.
The Habs kept their legs moving, scored two goals in 81 seconds in the first period and leaned on netminder Carey Price (33 saves).
Seemingly simple stuff for the Bruins to overcome, but when their top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak is firing blanks (11 shots, no goals) and is on the ice for two even-strength tallies, they will have a hard time making up for defensive mishaps and miscues by their netminder, in this case Tuukka Rask.
In those instances, Boston (6-3-2) will lose to teams less composed than Montreal.
“You can’t chase the game,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Two goals shouldn’t beat you at home.”
Montreal’s checking was good all over the ice, but Price frustrated them more. There were no “Carey, Carey” chants from the crowd, only grumbling and scattered boos for the Bruins’ listless performance. And before Jordie Benn’s bank-shot empty-netter from his own end with 29 seconds left, some “Ole, Ole” from the visiting patrons.
One of the major reasons for Montreal’s 6-2-2 start: speed. They’ve been zipping along, so much that coach Claude Julien openly wondered this week whether his team could keep mashing the pedal so hard.
The Canadiens had plenty in the tank.
“We got it in their zone a good amount, and their swarm was just killing us,” forward Chris Wagner said. “We didn’t break it enough. Then it leads to no offense, and we’re chasing.”
Montreal’s pair of early goals, on its fourth and fifth shots of the game, were the result of speed and grit — and a misplay by Rask (20 saves).
Habs right wing Brendan Gallagher scored at 9:18 of the first by winning a battle with Noel Acciari in the corner, walking around him and firing short-side. Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk was in between Rask and the shot, but Rask didn’t have the bad-angle shot sealed.
“It was a soft goal,” Cassidy said. “A team and a goaltender has to be able to get out of the first period without being too far behind.”
Rask’s other major boo-boo was similarly deflating.
After Montreal’s Joel Armia tripped Ryan Donato 5:10 into the third period, Rask bobbled the puck behind his net on a clear. After Habs forward Paul Byron challenged him, Rask tripped Byron with his stick, negating the man-advantage.
Asked if Rask could have done anything differently, Cassidy cracked, “Yeah, play the puck.”
The 2-0 tally was not Rask’s fault. It was an example of Montreal’s speed creating a mess.
Offseason acquisition Max Domi, acquired from Arizona in a one-for-one swap for Alex Galchenyuk, threw a high lob from his own zone over the head of a backtracking Zdeno Chara. Artturi Lehkonen collected it, broke in and drew a delayed Zdeno Chara slashing call on a misfire. With Brandon Carlo behind the net with Lehkonen and Chara covering the net in front, Domi crept in all alone and had two whacks at it. He finished the second from his knees at 10:39.
No Bruin knocked Domi, the son of the ex-Leafs pugilist Tie Domi, down a peg. He fell by himself, off-balance as he shot.
The Bruins, who used nastiness to their advantage against Edmonton and Philadelphia, wanted to put a few Habs on their backsides. Can’t check what you can’t catch.
A goal would have lifted them, of course. At 12:34 of the second, they thought they had one.
Rookie Ryan Donato, playing in his first B’s-Habs contest, used his best attribute — his wicked shot — and whipped a wrister over Carey Price’s shoulder from the left circle. But Anders Bjork was offside on the entry, as a video review showed.
Boston had a prime chance to to get on the board with 7:30 left on a power play the result of a Nicolas Deslauriers hook on Joakim Nordstrom, but Price calmly stemmed the tide. Boston went 0 for 3 on the man advantage.
Price, who was 0-3-2 in his last five against Boston — but 10-0-0 in 10 before that, dating to 2013 — swallowed a Nordstrom shot with a theatrical glove save as time expired in the second, one of many showy stops he made. Nordstrom’s linemate, Bjork, smacked his stick against the end boards in frustration as the horn sounded.
Goalies who are on their game have that effect.
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports