MONTREAL - Jose Theodore made the most of having the undivided attention of Team Canada Executive Director Wayne Gretzky by slamming the door on the Great One's Coyotes in a 5-2 victory over Phoenix Tuesday at the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens (16-8-5) picked up only their third win in their last 10 games, while the surging Coyotes (16-13-2) lost for only the third time in the same span.
"Theodore looked really solid tonight," admitted Gretzky, who is slated to unveil Canada's much anticipated Olympic roster next week. "That's what he's always done for this team -win games.
"He's a tremendous young man and a great team guy. That's why he was on the World Cup team last fall. I'm well aware of the pressure he is under playing here in his hometown. He handles himself well and I have always had the utmost respect for what he goes through on a daily basis in Montreal."
Theodore, who made 27 saves on the night, refused to admit to having any extra motivation with Gretzky looking on, but his coach begged to differ.
"With the embarrassing loss on Saturday, I think all the guys were going to be ready tonight no matter who we played. But with the Olympics coming, Gretzky being in town and [Curtis Joseph] being talked about as a potential candidate, I think Jose wanted to showcase his stuff. I just hope Gretzky will be in Edmonton when we play the Oilers on Thursday," smiled Claude Julien.
With Martin Brodeur clearly penciled in as the No. 1 man for Canada, Theodore is in a dogfight for the remaining two spots with Joseph, Florida's Roberto Luongo and Marty Turco of the Stars. That being said, Theodore would have no part of looking too far ahead even after being told what No. 99 had to say about him after the game.
"To be honest I don't really think about it," admitted Theodore, whose counterpart Joseph had a tough outing in stopping only 23-of-28 shots. "There are just so many good players here in Canada that I'm just worried about making saves and getting the two points like we did here tonight. I love playing under pressure whether it's a Game 7 in the playoffs, at the World Cup or the Olympics. It's what drives me. As for me going to Italy in February, that's their decision to make."
After logging just over one minute of ice-time in his first two NHL games combined, rookie Andrei Kostitsyn made sure his first NHL shot would be memorable by beating Curtis Joseph from from the high slot to put the Canadiens on the board early in the opening period. Montreal's top pick, 10th overall, in 2003, Kostitsyn has five goals and 17 points so far this season in 27 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs.
The 20-year-old's goal ended up being an all-Bulldogs affair with Garth Murray making a nifty play to set up up his Hamilton teammate for his own first point as a Montreal Canadien. Former Bulldog Chris Higgins also picked up an assist on the goal.
After Tomas Plekanec scored a power-play goal for his fourth of the season, Niklas Sundstrom didn't do his ex-Rangers linemate and the current Coyotes coach any favors by putting the Canadiens ahead 3-0 just past the midway point of the second period with his fourth of the year. Sundstrom, who played alongside Gretzky for three seasons in New York, tipped in a Sheldon Souray blast from the point that required a lengthy video replay delay before being allowed. The Canadiens are now inexplicably 7-0-0 when Sundtrom picks up a point so far this season.
"I saw Sunny score more than a few goals like that when we played together in New York," said Gretzky. "So seeing him tip that one home didn't surprise me one bit."
Michael Ryder and Mike Ribeiro then teamed up to make it 4-0, as Ryder flew down on the offwing before snapping a wrister past Joseph for his team leading 13th of the year. With the assist, Ribeiro extended his point-streak to four games giving him five assists over that span.
With less than a minute to play in the final frame, Jan Bulis iced the victory with a power-play goal, his fourth of the year after cashing in a 2-on-1 break with Plekanec. Bulis also added an assist for his first multi-point game of the season, while Plekanec enjoyed already his third two-point night of 2005-06.
Mike Ricci and Boyd Devereaux each scored goals for the Coyotes. Montreal was 2-for-5 on the power-play while the Coyotes went 0-for-6.
The Canadiens will head back on the road for a date with the Oilers on Thursday and will be in Minnesota to take on the Wild on Saturday.
NOTES: Tuesday night's matchup with the Coyotes drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 17th consecutive sellout of the season and 40th straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04... Montreal is now 7-2 when sporting their vintage jerseys worn in honor of the 1945-46 edition of the Canadiens... The victory was Montreal's first multi-goal win of the season on home-ice... After sitting out last three games with a groin injury, C Saku Koivu was out of the lineup with the flu as was D Mark Streit.. C Radek Bonk (groin) missed his third straight, and RW Alex Kovalev sat out his 11th game since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Nov. 15. Kovalev, who is back practicing with the team, is soon expected to return to the lineup... GM Bob Gainey saw his team pick up a victory as celebrated his 52nd birthday... Gretzky's first game in Montreal as a head coach came only one day shy of the 26th Anniversary of his first-ever game against the Canadiens as a player back on Dec. 14, 1979, when his Oliers downed the Canadiens 5-3 in Edmonton...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com