Game 73: Halak remains perfect at Bell Centre

Canadiens’ Tom Kostopoulos trips in front of Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro, as Sean Bergenheim (left) and Rob Davidson look on, during the second period Saturday night. Phil Carpenter, The Gazette

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From The Gazette’s Pat Hickey:

Perfection is becoming Jaroslav Halak’s middle name.

Halak stopped all 30 shots he faced last night as the Canadiens stumbled their way to a 3-0 win over the New York Islanders. It was the third shutout of Halak’s career.

The 22-year-old Slovak also improved his record this season to 2-0 and he’s a perfect 8-0 when he starts at the Bell Centre.

“I was waiting for this start,” said Halak, who has spent most of this season in the American Hockey League. “The last game I started here was almost a year ago.”

The unassuming Halak gave the usual credit to his teammates for keeping the shots from outside and clearing the rebounds, but he came up with a key save when he came across the crease to stop Richard Park while the Canadiens were protecting a 2-0 lead.

“I saw him coming across and I moved as quick as I could and he shot it into my pads,” Halak said. “I was a little bit lucky.”

The Canadiens did block 25 shots, with Roman Hamrlik blocking six and Mike Komisarek five. Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro said after the game that the Canadiens have the most underrated defence in the NHL.

“I thought we played well,” coach Guy Carbonneau said. “There were a couple of instances where we didn’t get the puck out of our zone quick enough and we got in trouble, but we had a good game.”

Halak, who played well down the stretch last season when he put together a 10-6 record, said the feeling in the Canadiens dressing room is different this season.

“When I was here last year, we were fighting to get that eighth spot in the playoffs,” Halak recalled. “This year, it looks as if we’re going to make the playoffs and we have a chance to finish pretty high.”

The victory moved the Canadiens back into first place in the Northeast Division and second place in the Eastern Conference overall.

Montreal has a two-point edge over idle Ottawa in the division race, but the Senators hold a game in hand. The Canadiens are one point behind New Jersey in the conference standings and the Devils also enjoy a game in hand.

The Islanders, who have five players, including defencemen Andy Sutton and Chris Campoli, on the injured reserve list, kept the game close through two periods because they received strong goaltending of their own from DiPietro.

The Canadiens didn’t get any breathing room until Tomas Plekanec set up Alex Kovalev on a 2-on-1 break at 5:54 of the third period. Kovalev scored his 31st goal of the season to put Montreal ahead, 2-0.

Montreal opened the scoring on a power play at 7:04 of the second period when Hamrlik beat DiPietro off a rebound of a shot by Mark Streit. Christopher Higgins was in the slot waiting for the rebound and managed to nudge the puck back to Hamrlik.

Guillaume Latendresse completed the scoring when he took a pass from Saku Koivu and had a breakaway. He found the far side of the net for his 16th goal of the season. That matches his total from last season.

Carbonneau, who challenged Higgins to play a more straightforward style, got his wish. Higgins, who was playing with youngsters Mikhail Grabovski and Sergei Kostitsyn, had three shots on goal, hit a post and had a couple of hits.

The best Canadien in the early going was Tom Kostopoulos, who had four shots on net and rattled another shot off a post.

The Habs wrap up their four-game homestand Tuesday when the St. Louis Blues are in town. That will be followed by two games against the Boston Bruins, Thursday in Boston and Saturday at the Bell Centre.

Gazette Stars: 1. Jaroslav Halak;
2. Alex Kovalev; 3. Roman Hamrlik.

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