MONTREAL - After having the Canadiens spoil their home-opener just over three weeks ago, the Rangers finally got their revenge with a 5-2 win on Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens (7-3-1) have now lost two straight for the first time this season, while the Rangers (6-3-3) picked up their second win in a row.
On a night when nothing seemed to go right for the Canadiens, Claude Julien pulled out all the stops, hoping to spark Montreal's sixth come-from-behind win of the season, but it wasn't meant to be.
After seeing Jose Theodore surrender three goals on 13 shots in the opening period, Julien tried to shake things up by turning the crease over to 24-year-old Yann Danis to start the second period.
"Jose may have been the one who got pulled, but the whole team was to blame for the kind of effort everyone gave tonight," said Julien. "A team that wants to be considered a good team can't play the way we did tonight. If we just want to be an average team this year, then that's another story."
Danis stopped the first 12 shots he faced before having his shutout string, dating back to his blanking of the Thrashers in his NHL debut on Oct. 12 in Atlanta, snapped after 89:34.
"Coming in the way I did isn't easy, but it's part of my job," said Danis, who was making his first NHL relief appearance. "As the back-up, I have to make sure I'm ready at all times because you never know when you'll get that tap on the shoulder."
Still not impressed by his team's effort after two periods, Julien then shuffled his two top lines with his team still trailing 3-0 heading into the final frame. After reuniting his No. 1line of Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev and Richard Zednik, Julien was immediately reminded why they were among the NHL's most dominant lines during the 2004 playoffs. The trio scored on each of their first two shifts with goals from Kovalev and Zednik, who notched his first goal of the season after missing eight games with a groin injury.
"I was willing to try anything to try to spark something, and we finally took it to them and decided to get our noses dirty," said Julien. "It was good to see them finally respond, but playing well for 10 minutes is not even close to being acceptable. We have to play better than we did here tonight. There certainly a lot more negatives than positives from our performance, and we're just going to have to learn from this."
Also benefiting from Julien's reshuffling of the deck on Saturday was Pierre Dagenais, who found himself back alongside Mike Ribeiro and Michael Ryder.
"When you're down 3-0, you try to make changes," said Dagenais, who logged 10:43 of ice-time against the Rangers marking his highest total in over two weeks. "I thought we had some jump out there and our line had a couple of great chances to tie up the game in the third period."
Julien remained noncommittal about whether the lineup changes would carry over to Monday night in New York.
Rangers rookie Henrik Lunqvist, who came into tonight's game with a 4-1-2 record and league-leading 1.55 goals against average, didn't make things any easier for the Canadiens in turning away 38-of-40 shots. Drafted by New York in the seventh round, 200th overall in 2000, Lundqvist recently uprooted Kevin Weekes as the Rangers' No. 1 netminder.
Rangers' goal scorers included Jaromir Jagr, former Canadien Martin Rucinsky, Steve Rucchin and Dominic Moore (younger brother of former Avalanche forward Steve Moore) who notched a pair and has now scored all three his goals so far this season against Montreal.
The Canadiens' 11th ranked power-play was 0-for-3 as they were kept off the scoresheet for only the third time this season, while the Rangers were also scoreless with the man advantage. The combined six power-plays marked the lowest total of any game so far this season for the Canadiens, well below their season average of 13.
Claude Julien's squad will try to bounce back on Monday night in New York in the back-end of a home-and-home series. Montreal will then head right back to the Bell Centre for a date with the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.
NOTES: Halloween Night at the Bell Centre drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, the Canadiens' 24th consecutive regular season sellout dating back to 2003-04... The Canadiens outshot the Rangers 40-29, marking Montreal's season-high shot total... C Radek Bonk played in his 700th NHL game... RW Niklas Sundstrom (groin) missed his fourth straight game but is expected to return to action as early as Monday night in New York. D Mark Streit was a healthy scratch for the fifth time this season... Making their Bell Centre debut as New York Rangers were former Canadiens RW Jason Ward and LW Marcel Hossa. Ward was signed as a free-agent this summer, while Hossa was sent to the Rangers in exchange for C Garth Murray. Ward picked up an assist on his very first shift of the night. The only other ex-Canadien in the lineup was LW Martin Rucinsky, who scored the game-winner and added an assist before leaving the game in the third period with an apparent knee injury following a big hit from former teammate D Craig Rivet...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com