Winnipeg squandered a number of solid scoring chances in a 3-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday — wasting an early two-man breakaway, failing to capitalize on mouth-watering giveaways, hitting the post four times — but when the Jets did find the net, Carey Price was there to stop them.
Price, who picked up his first shutout of the season after making 29 saves, has stopped 59 of the last 60 shots he's faced after helping beat the Minnesota Wild 4-1 his last time out. His save percentage has jumped from .907 to .918 in his last two games.
"I can't score on him in practice, and it really hurts my self-esteem," said Montreal's Mike Weaver with a grin. "He's there for every key save out there. He's able to stop the best goal scorers out there."
The Jets took their first regulation loss in more than two weeks.
"We were trying to be perfect with the shot, pick it and put a lot of heat on it," said head coach Paul Maurice. "We were missing the net on some chances that we just need to get to the net.
"It's a loss, so you're stinging right now. But that's probably how a loss should look. You're on the road, it's a tight game, you're getting some chances, you stick with it, doesn't go for you, move on to the next town."
Early in a scoreless first period, Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler walked in all alone on Price, with Kane taking the shot on Montreal's netminder rather than passing it off.
Later in the same frame, with the Habs on the power play, P.K. Subban over-skated the puck as he crossed his own blue-line, handing it on a plate to Winnipeg's Mark Scheifele in the process. Scheifele beat Price to his right but his shot rang off the iron.
Scheifele, in his third season with the Jets, shot another one off the post midway through the second period, just minutes after Montreal's Lars Eller scored the opening goal of the game.
"We like the chances that we've been getting, that's been a theme for a while," said Maurice. "I'd like Mark to get one on the inside of the post one of these days instead of the outside. We had a few. On the road, you need one of those to go fairly early for you."
With the Canadiens up 1-0, the Jets couldn't make the most of another Subban giveaway, this time in the neutral zone. After Bryan Little stripped an overzealous Subban of the puck, the Winnipeg forward hit yet another post.
Perhaps the Jets' best chance of the game came in the dying seconds. With Ondrej Pavelec pulled for an extra skater, and Jiri Sekac in the penalty box for tripping, the Jets threw everything they had at Price. A bouncing puck fell to Kane at the side of the goal, but his shot towards the gaping net was deflected over the glass by Andrei Markov's stick.
"One post, two posts, missed an empty net," said Maurice. "It was just the general theme that we've been working on."
Montreal (11-4-1) is now riding a three-game winning streak after hitting a rough patch 10 games into its season. The Jets (8-6-2), meanwhile, are 6-1-2 in their last nine.
Eller scored the opener for Montreal at 2:21 of the second. The third-line centreman was at the right place at the right time after newcomer Sekac drove hard to the net. Pavelec stick-checked the puck right to Eller, who made no mistake on the backhand facing a wide-open net.
"Most of the time, that's going to be the goals — driving the net and getting a good rebound," said Eller. "Jiri had a good drive to the net there, created good space for me, and I picked up the rebound. A lot of times, it's as simple as that."
It was just the fifth time the Habs scored first this season. The team is 5-0-0 when it does.
Montreal doubled its lead at 7:47 of the final frame when Alex Galchenyuk put home a pretty no-look shot from the slot. After a Tom Gilbert shot from the point hit traffic in front of the net, Galchenyuk found the loose puck and slipped it past Pavelec, who got a piece of it with his stick.
The Jets pulled Pavelec, who made 24 saves in defeat, with three minutes remaining in the game. Tomas Plekanec scored his sixth of the season in the empty net.
The sell-out crowd at the Bell Centre was convinced the Canadiens had taken the lead in the game's first minute when Brendan Gallagher put the puck past Pavelec. The linesman, however, judged the speedy forward had crossed the blue-line before the puck, and the goal was waved off.
Montreal's NHL third-worst power play — the Habs are converting less than eight per cent of their man advantages — couldn't solve Winnipeg's penalty kill, going 0-for-3 in the game.
Notes: Earlier in the day, Montreal traded left-winger Travis Moen to the Dallas Stars for defenceman Sergei Gonchar. The 40-year-old blue-liner, now in his 20th NHL season, has one point in three games this year. ... Drayson Bowman made his Montreal Canadiens debut. The 25-year-old played 6:06. … Subban dressed for his 300th career game. … The Jets couldn't find the back of the net for the third time this season. ... Montreal is undefeated when leading after two periods (5-0-0). … Winnipeg continues its five-game road swing with a stop in North Carolina next. … The Habs are 7-1-0 versus the Jets in the teams' last eight meetings.