The Montreal Canadiens needed a full-team effort to shut down the NHL’s best offensive line.
The Canadiens completely neutralized the Colorado Avalanche’s top line in a 3-0 victory on Saturday night while goalie Carey Price earned his third shutout of the season.
Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen — who’ve combined for 73 goals and 112 assists this year — hardly threatened Price, firing a total five shots on net.
“Obviously, they’re one of the best lines in the league,” said Habs captain Shea Weber. “Dangerous from one side to the other. We talked about not just the five guys that are out there, there are other guys that had to play against them and everybody did a good job tonight.”
“We played them well,” added Price, who made 28 saves for his 43rd career shutout. “They’re a good line and we did an excellent job tonight.”
The Avalanche’s top line has scored nearly half of Colorado’s goals but it was harmless against the Canadiens, who clogged up the neutral zone and limited the visitors’ chances.
MacKinnon saw his eight-game point streak snapped while Landeskog’s three-game multi-point streak ended as the Avalanche dropped to 1-7-2 in their last 10 games.
“We didn’t give them much space,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien of the MacKinnon line. “We kept trying to kill the play as quickly as possible. And we had more than one line playing against their top line so we were always fresh when they hit the ice.”
The play was congested in the middle of the ice for the first two periods, with few quality chances for either team.
In the third, Montreal (24-17-5) got a goal from an unlikely source when defenceman Brett Kulak scored his second of the season to break the deadlock. With the Canadiens playing shorthanded, Kulak scored right off a faceoff in Colorado’s zone at 8:21.
Avalanche (20-17-8) netminder Semyon Varlamov never saw the puck.
That goal revitalized the home side and Jesperi Kotkaniemi made it 2-0 at 10:39 on a one-timer after nifty stickwork by Jonathan Drouin along the half-wall.
“We got running around, an extended shift, Montreal kept it in our zone,” said Avalanche coach Jared Bednar of the reaction to Kulak’s goal. “Probably their best shift of the game, and not so much on our side. There was probably some disappointment from our guys, maybe hanging their heads for a couple of seconds. Next thing you know, Montreal turns it on and gets the second one.
“That’s how our game’s been going right now.”
Jordie Benn added an empty-netter with 1:16 left in the game.
Colorado has dropped the first three games on its current five-game Canadian road trip.
“We have to stick together and find a way through this,” said Landeskog. “We can’t look at anybody else and hope that we’re going to get help. We have to come together and figure a way out of this. And I have no doubt we will, but nonetheless it’s frustrating.”
Price was solid between the pipes, making key saves to keep the Canadiens in the game. In the first, Price made a hard glove save look easy when Tyson Jost walked in all alone. In the third, with the game still scoreless, the 31-year-old stopped Matt Calvert on the breakaway.
Price is three shutouts away from tying Ken Dryden for third on the Canadiens all-time list.
Julien shuffled Montreal’s top three lines to provide a spark on offence.
He moved Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault to the top line with Drouin, sending Max Domi down to centre the second line. Tomas Tatar was demoted to the third line alongside rookie Kotkaniemi and Paul Byron.
Julien also tweaked his two power-play units, to no avail. Montreal’s league-worst power play went 0 for 3. The Canadiens are 1 for 20 on the power play in their last six games. They’re 0 for 27 on the power play at home dating back to Dec. 1.