MONTREAL - In what proved to be the perfect way to thank Claude Julien for promoting him to the third line, Steve Begin scored the game-winner in the Canadiens' 4-3 victory over the Islanders Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
Begin, filling in for Niklas Sundstrom who is sidelined with a groin injury, accepted a pass from Radek Bonk and fired a wrist shot past Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. The Canadiens are now off to their first 6-2 start in almost 30 years, with the last such start coming back in 1976-77.
"I actually missed a lot of goals tonight. I guess I was just waiting for the perfect time to finally put one in," admitted a grinning Begin. "Those guys were a lot of fun to play with. Bulis has so much speed and Bonk is a really good playmaker. I was just trying to bring a little energy and use my speed and things just clicked tonight."
Julien, who would expect nothing less from his resident Energizer Bunny, had nothing but praise for Begin, who picked up an assist in addition the game-winner.
"He just works so hard every night and it feels really good to see that kind of effort get rewarded on a night like tonight," said Julien of Begin, who now has three goals on the season despite barely averaging 11 minutes per game. "We're talking about a guy who doesn't get a bunch of ice-time but Steve certainly makes the most of every one of his shifts."
Julien and the capacity crowd of 21,273 on hand at the Bell Centre were not the only ones who left the building happy on Saturday night. Eight-year-old Jrmy Gabriel, who sang the Canadian national anthem despite being hearing-impaired, had a little heart-to-heart with captain Saku Koivu after wrapping up his moving rendition of O Canada and did his part in ensuring a Canadiens victory.
"He asked me just before the game if I would score a goal for him tonight," said Koivu, who opened the scoring on Saturday before later adding an assist. "Hearing him perform was very emotional for all of us and he did an incredible job. He was sitting right behind us during the first period but we couldn't find him during the second period. We'll make sure we track him down and give him the game puck."
The once-struggling Montreal power-play continued its resurgence by going 2-for-8 after accounting for three of the Canadiens four goals on in Tuesday night's win over the Bruins. The Canadiens connected on their first two opportunities of the night with the man advantage, thanks to goals from Koivu and Alex Kovalev. Joined by rookie Alexander Perezhogin, the Canadiens' top line continued its torrid pace to start the season with a combined four points on the night. The trio has now accounted for a whopping 38.4 per cent (25-of-65) of the Canadiens' total points so far.
After scoring his first NHL goal when the Canadiens spoiled the Rangers home opener just over two weeks ago, New York native Chris Higgins was at it again by victimizing his hometown Islanders for his second goal of the season.
"Yeah I don't know what it is with me and teams from New York," admitted life-long Canadiens fan Higgins, who grew up in Smithtown, NY, only a half hour away from Nassau Coliseum in Long Island. "I guess if we only played the Isles and Rangers all year long, maybe I would score 82 goals. But seriously, I know a lot of guys in the other room like Jason Blake who I skate with during the offseason, so at least now I've got something to bug them about for next summer."
Jose Theodore picked up his fifth win of the season after turning away 19-of-22 shots that were fired his way, while former first-overall pick Rick DiPietro stopped 28-of-32 shots.
Islanders goal scorers on the night included captain Alexei Yashin and newcomer Miroslav Satan, who notched a pair on the power-play as the Isles fell to 4-4 on the season.
The Canadiens will now wrap-up their four-game home stint on Tuesday night when they welcome Peter Forsberg and the Flyers to the Bell Centre before heading back on the road to face the undefeated Senators in Ottawa on Thursday.
NOTES: Saturday night's match-up with the Islanders drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 22nd consecutive regular season sellout dating back to 2003-04... Montreal outshot the Islanders 32-22 on the night... Due to the Canadiens suddenly busy infirmary, including RW Richard Zednik (groin), LW Raitis Ivanans (eye) and RW Niklas Sundstrom (groin), Julien had to do a little reshuffling of his third and fourth lines as C Chris Higgins and LW Pierre Dagenais played with a rotating third linemate throughout the night. Meanwhile D Mathieu Dandenault, who made headlines all week long for practicing as a forward from his regular spot on the blueline, was notified just before gametime that he would in fact be playing defense.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com