Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was quick to deflect the credit for his second straight shutout to the young defence playing in front of him.
Price needed only 17 saves and his teammates blocked another 17 shots as the Canadiens ended the New York Rangers' seven-game winning streak with a 4-0 victory on Saturday night.
With Jaroslav Spacek and Hal Gill out of the lineup and with Andrei Markov and Chris Campoli still not back from long-term ailments, the Montreal defence has been using three rookies, a part-time rearguard in Yannick Weber, second-year man P.K. Subban and only one true veteran in Josh Gorges.
“Our team played really well, and the young guys are following the leaders,” said Price, who had a 25-save shutout in his last start Wednesday night at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. “Before this I would have been surprised, but after watching these guys play the way they have it's not really surprising.”
Brian Gionta scored twice, Scott Gomez had two assists and Tomas Plekanec and Erik Cole added power-play goals for Montreal (9-8-3), which was coming off a 4-3 loss to the Islanders in New York with backup Peter Budaj in goal.
The Rangers (10-4-3) lost for the first time in November. They were gunning to win eight in a row for the first time since 1974-75. The club record is 10 straight wins in 1972-73.
But on this night, they brought a half-effort that did not sit well with coach John Tortorella.
“We had problems, we were chasing the game the whole night,” he said. “We didn't do much with battles, didn't do much with races to pucks right on through our lineup.”
The Canadiens had 31 shots on Martin Biron.
“Don't look at our goalie, I'll tell you that,” added Tortorella. “Our whole crew in front of him never had the puck. We never caught up to it.”
Injuries have added extra ice time for first-year rearguards Raphael Diaz and Alexei Emelin, while Frederic St-Denis, called up this week from AHL Hamilton, played 14:25. He is plus-2 in three NHL games and has yet to be on the ice for a goal against.
“It's great to watch, isn't it?” said Gorges, the old man on the blue-line with 384 NHL games under his belt. “People keep talking about the inexperience and how are they going to handle playing against these guys.
“They showed again tonight why we're confident in them. Freddie was great again. He just makes smart play after smart play. Emelin same thing. Up in his gap making good plays. Everyone played just a good simple hockey game.”
After Gorges, the other five defencemen together have 203 NHL games played, including Subban's 99.
Coach Jacques Martin does not expect any injured players back right away, so the same group will have an even bigger test Monday night when the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins visit the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens started the season 1-5-2, but have turned it around since their 5-1 victory over Philadelphia on Oct. 26. It may be coincidence that that was the day they fired respected assistant coach Perry Pearn, Martin's closest ally on the staff.
Since then, penalty killers that were being shredded have surrendered only two goals. The Canadiens have killed their last 31 penalties in a row.
The power play has also awoken with goals in their last four gmes, including a 2-for-6 effort against the Rangers.
“There are two factors,” said Martin. “When we were losing games early in the season, we had some strong games, but Carey wasn't playing like he's playing now, and our special teams are better.”
The Canadiens were also giving several glittering chances to opponents early in the season, which is not good for any goalie's save percentage.
Against New York, he was tested in the opening moments and stoned Marian Gaborik on a shot from close range. That would be his toughest save of the night.
“Price still made some big saves for us,” said Gionta. “He made a huge one early on.
“He's the backbone of our team. But we did do a good job of getting the puck out of our end.”
He was also glad to see his former linemate Gomez have his first two-point game since January. Gomez has not scored since he got one against the Rangers in February.
“He worked hard tonight,” added Gionta. “He was on the puck doing the right things and when he does that he's a great player.”
Cole opened the scoring with his third power-play tally of the season as he took a stretch pass from Weber and beat Biron with a snap to the top corner on the off-wing 3:45 into the game.
Gomez sent Gionta in on the right side and he picked the far corner with a low shot from a near-impossible angle on Biron, who immediately went to the bench to have his equipment adjusted. It was a 100th point as a Canadien for Gomez.
After Plekanec scored on a point shot at 7:05, Gomez fed Gionta in the slot for his second of the game at 13:47.
The Rangers were playing their first game in four days and don't play again until Wednesday in Florida.
Interesting moment in the third: After Price iced the puck, Michael Del Zotto waited and waited over the puck for 10 seconds to tick off a penalty. He was warned by the linesman, and then called for not advancing the puck, which put the ensuing faceoff in New York's end.
Notes: A pre-game scoreboard tribute was made to former Canadiens trainer and equipment man Eddy Palchak, who died this week after a long illness. It drew a huge ovation and chants of ”Eddy Eddy.” . . . Gill, who was in hospital this week to treat an infected cut, missed a fourth game while Spacek (upper body) sat out a third and forward Andrei Kostitsyn missed a seventh. . . . New York's Marc Staal (concussion) has yet to play this season, while Mike Rupp (knee) and Wojtek Wolski (groin) are also out.