ATLANTA - Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay found himself in the enviable position on Friday following his team's 3-0 win over Montreal of a maestro comparing one masterpiece to another.
Which was better, he was asked, Friday's win over the Northeast Division leader or the 5-1 victory over Western Conference-leading Detroit that preceded it?
" I kind of like that," Ramsay said of his team's fourth straight win. "I'd just as soon do a lot of that, but we made a big point of how the other day as huge as (the win over Detroit) felt - we got to relax and enjoy a Thanksgiving Day - it's a step.
"And this was another step. And we've seen those steps. We push ourselves and again there's a bit of a fear factor playing the Montreal Canadiens. They're a good team and it is Montreal so we responded extremely well. We have to stay focused on what it is we want to accomplish and that's to be a team every night, not to have those ins-and-outs those lulls. Just be focused."
Focus does not seem to be a problem, especially not in goal. Ondrej Pavelec made 25 saves for his second shutout in four games. During the four-game winning streak, he has stopped 114 of 116 shots for a .983 save percentage.
During the winning streak - which includes a 5-0 win against Washington a week ago - the Thrashers have outscored the opposition 15-2.
Asked what has been different, center Rich Peverley, who scored twice on Friday, said he thinks it's the way the Thrashers start games. They have scored the first goal in eight of their last 10.
"I think just our mindset going into games," Peverley said. "We've started slow in the past here, but I think we've been playing well right from the get-go."
The Thrashers (11-9-3) killed two penalties during the first 13 minutes of the first period, then momentum swung their way late.
"Absolutely," said Pavelec who stopped 13 shots in the first. "The first period was kind of up and down. Again, we had a great start but then we settled down and then they had three power plays or two power plays and we killed that and then the goal, again, every goal is very important, but this goal was so important because we leave the period one-nothing."
With the first period winding down, Peverley took advantage of a turnover deep in Montreal's end. Canadiens' defensemen Hal Gill and Josh Gorges chopped at a bouncing puck, unable to control it -- and Peverley put it past Alex Auld from just outside the crease with 18.2 seconds left. Peverley called it "a lucky bounce," saying "I just took a whack at it."
Auld was starting for only the second time this season, as Carey Price, who leads the League in wins with 13, will start on Saturday in Montreal against Buffalo. Auld made 30 saves in his other start, a 3-1 win over the New York Islanders on Oct. 29 in his only other appearance and was strong again but he had little support -- he made 44 saves to keep the Canadiens (14-8-1) in it.
"It was nice to get a lot of work," he said of the 47 shots by the Thrashers. "I was screened on a couple of them."
Peverley earned his second goal on the power play after P.K. Subban went off for tripping Eric Boulton in the neutral zone as Boulton pursued a loose puck. With the puck in Montreal's zone, Andrew Ladd reversed it from behind the net to Dustin Byfuglien at the right point. Byfuglien nudged the puck forward to Peverley who skated in from the right circle and unleashed a wrist shot that beat Auld high to his blocker side for a 3-0 lead.
Auld allowed a fluky goal from Thrashers defenseman Tobias Enstrom at 8:52 of the second period to make it 2-0. Enstrom lightly flipped the puck from just inside the blue line and Auld might have been screened by Evander Kane as the puck fluttered over the goaltender's left shoulder. Enstrom also added an assist.
"They're definitely on a roll. Their goalie's making saves. They're getting contributions from everyone. They're a solid team on the rise," Auld said.
About the only hiccup for Atlanta were some penalties two young Thrashers took late in the third period. Leading 3-0 and on the power play, Zach Bogosian paired off for a fighting major with Subban and Kane received a double minor for roughing, with the Habs' Tomas Plekanec earning only two minutes for roughing.
That turned the Atlanta power play into a two-minute Canadiens' power play.
"At 3-0, I'm just not inclined to have that," Ramsay said. "But the most important thing is that the players need to police themselves.... I just want them to play hard. They felt they had to respond, they did respond; they supported each other. I think the most important part is ending up shorthanded, our penalty killers went out and did the job.
"That's once again supporting their teammates. I can never knock when a team stands together and that's what happened out there."
|Rich Peverley Interference against Roman Hamrlik|
|Anthony Stewart Roughing against Jaroslav Spacek|
|Tomas Plekanec Slashing against Evander Kane|
|Roman Hamrlik Hi-sticking against Andrew Ladd|
|Brian Gionta Charging against Evander Kane|
|P.K. Subban Tripping against Eric Boulton|
|Josh Gorges Tripping against Evander Kane|
|Jeff Halpern Elbowing against Alexander Burmistrov|
|Evander Kane Roughing against Maxim Lapierre|
|Evander Kane Roughing against Maxim Lapierre|
|Zach Bogosian Fighting (maj) against P.K. Subban|
|P.K. Subban Fighting (maj) against Zach Bogosian|
|Tomas Plekanec Roughing against Evander Kane|
|Lars Eller Hooking against Alexander Burmistrov|