Montreal’s special teams made the difference against the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night.
The Canadiens scored once on the power play and added another on the penalty kill en route to a 2-1 victory over the visiting Devils.
“When you win the special teams battle, you definitely give yourself a much greater opportunity of winning the game,” said captain Max Pacioretty, who scored Montreal’s first of the game with the man advantage. “This game is so tightly checked that 5-on-5 goals are very tough to score, especially against a team like that.”
With New Jersey (20-16-5) playing a man down in the first, Pacioretty redirected a pass from Tomas Plekanec between Cory Schneider’s pads at 19:00. With Brendan Gallagher screening him, Schneider never saw the puck.
The Canadiens (23-16-3) are 13-2-0 when Pacioretty scores. They’re also 8-1-1 at the Bell Centre when scoring first.
Rookie Devils coach John Hynes used his challenge on the goal, arguing Gallagher had interfered with Schneider on the play. The Canadiens forward, however, was just outside the crease.
“Just having a guy planted on the edge of your crease, once Plekanec moved the puck, I never really saw it again and it found its way in,” said Schneider, who made 23 saves in defeat. “That just shows you the value of having someone parked in front of the net like that.
“Gallagher’s really good at that. Give him credit for making it difficult. Maybe there was some incidental contact with the stick, but he wasn’t really in the crease at all.”
The goal was only Montreal’s fourth on the power play in its last 16 games (4 for 46).
Torrey Mitchell scored the winner shortly after Canadiens forward David Desharnais missed a penalty shot high and wide in the second period.
With Devante Smith-Pelly in the penalty box for interference, Paul Byron jumped on a loose puck and stormed down the ice on a shorthanded 2-on-1 with Mitchell. Byron avoided a diving Devils defenceman with a nifty toe drag before feeding Mitchell at the side of the net for the easy tap-in at 18:27.
Montreal’s eight short-handed goals ties the Ottawa Senators for the NHL lead.
“The penalty kill is definitely my niche,” said Byron, who leads the NHL with five short-handed points. “I don’t know what it is. Anticipation, getting in lanes, more room out there. With my speed and my quickness, I can kill plays.”
Added coach Michel Therrien of Byron: “He has good skill in the neutral zone and has a lot of poise with the puck. Great play to Mitchell, which turned out to be the winner. Paul Byron isn’t a big guy, but he has some bite.”
Adam Henrique got one back for the Devils just 50 seconds into the third period, deflecting an Andy Greene shot from the point between Mike Condon’s legs.
Condon made 19 saves, including just five in the third period, for this 12th win of the season.
The Canadiens, who were playing their first home game in nearly three weeks, came into Wednesday’s matchup with 12 losses from their previous 15 games. The Habs went 2-6-0 on their eight-game holiday road trip, squandering their division lead in the process.
Montreal showed little signs of fatigue against New Jersey after losing to the Flyers 4-3 in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Notes: Tomas Fleischmann was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Forwards Mike Cammalleri (upper body) and Patrik Elias (knee) were not in the lineup for New Jersey. ... The late Dickie Moore, who died on Dec. 19, was honoured in a pre-game ceremony. Earlier on Wednesday, Pacioretty was awarded the Molson Cup for December.Report Typo/Error