MONTREAL (CP) - The coaches and players may change from year to year, but it seems like the New Jersey Devils always wind up looking like Stanley Cup contenders, and that's largely because of the man between the pipes.
Martin Brodeur made 28 saves to post his 87th career shutout and Brian Gionta scored two goals to lead the Devils to a 3-0 win Sunday over the Montreal Canadiens.
Michael Rupp also scored, while Brian Rafalski and Scott Gomez had two assists each for the streaking Devils (25-13-4), who have earned at least a point in seven straight games (6-0-1) and have won eight of their last 11.
Brodeur says it took the Devils some time to adjust to the style of new head coach Claude Julien, but now they're rounding into usual New Jersey form.
'It's learning to play with each other, having faith in what our coach is trying to accomplish out there and everybody getting their game together,' Brodeur said. 'The chemistry is getting good and we've been scoring more goals than earlier on. We're scoring more than two or three goals a game and that makes it a lot easier on me.'
The biggest reason for the scoring outburst is the Devils top line of Gomez, Gionta and Patrik Elias, which has combined for 14 goals and 22 assists over their last 11 games after a slow start to the season.
'We just got back to basics, we were trying to be too cute for a little while,' Gionta said. 'So we just got back to making simple plays, giving it to the guy that's open and putting pucks on net with guys going there.'
The Devils have an outstanding 13-4-2 mark since Nov. 27, and Julien says it stems from getting the same effort from his players every game.
'We talked about it back in New Jersey probably about a month ago that we were looking for a little more consistency,' Julien said. 'We were playing some good hockey games, but there were other games we were getting away from what we were doing well. It's coming along, and our record in the past month is proof of that.'
Cristobal Huet made 34 saves for the slumping Canadiens (23-14-5), who have lost a season-high three straight and five of their last six games.
It was the first time this season Montreal has been shut out.
Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau's lineup was still saddled by a stomach bug that is making its way through the team. Centre Tomas Plekanec was the latest to sit out because of the virus, though captain Saku Koivu and rookie winger Guillaume Latendresse returned to the ice after missing Saturday afternoon's game.
The Canadiens were also without centre Radek Bonk, who took a puck in the face Saturday.
The injuries and illnesses forced Carbonneau to use a constantly shifting combination of forward lines, with the only consistent one being rookie Mikhail Grabovski with Alexei Kovalev and Sergei Samsonov.
'We had to deal with what we had,' Carbonneau said. 'Half the team was sick and we were missing two centres, so we tried some combinations. But in that situation, it's difficult.'
Brodeur's victory over his hometown team improved his career record against the Canadiens to 32-12-5 with seven shutouts and a 1.74 goals against average.
Brodeur, who sits third on the NHL's shutout list, moved to within seven of George Hainsworth's 94 career shutouts. The all-time leader is Terry Sawchuck with 103.
'I really try not to read the papers or pay attention to any of that stuff, though that may be tougher as I get closer to these records,' Brodeur said. 'But I really try not to worry about things that I don't control.'
The Devils took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission with goals at the beginning and the end of the first period.
Rupp opened the scoring at 2:21 when Paul Martin split the Canadiens defense before feeding him for his third goal of the season.
Gionta made it 2-0 at 19:18 when he fought off Mathieu Dandenault in front of the net to bang home a rebound for his 18th of the season.
After a scoreless second, the Devils took advantage of a double-minor high-sticking penalty handed to Michael Ryder late in the third to put the game out of reach.
Gomez crossed the Canadiens blue line and passed over to Elias who immediately fed a streaking Gionta for his 19th of the year at 12:47 of the third.
Notes: Devils D Colin White missed his seventh game with a groin injury, while defenceman John Oduya missed his second game with a shoulder injury...Canadiens enforcer Aaron Downey was a healthy scratch...Devils D Brad Lukowich was helped off the ice in the third with blood streaming from his face after taking a high stick from Ryder.
Is there a doctor in the house?