GLENDALE – There’s nothing like a big goal to put a lengthy scoring slump to rest.
On Saturday night, Lars Eller snapped a 14-game goalless streak with his 10th tally of the year, a marker that ultimately proved to be the game-winner in the Canadiens’ 2-0 victory over the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. It was the sixth time this season that a deciding goal had come off Eller’s stick, and this one was particularly significant given that Michel Therrien’s troops were dead set on closing out a subpar West Coast swing with their 20th road win of the year after going winless in three straight outings.
“We haven’t won in a while, so it’s always good to get on the board. More importantly, though, we got out of here with two points and we finished this road trip strong,” offered Eller, whose squad earned three out of a possible eight points on their annual trek to California and Arizona this time around. “It was very important to finish this road trip this way to make it somewhat acceptable. We didn’t start off on the right foot, but we got better and better as it went on. These trips aren’t easy.”
While Eller might not be pleased with leaving valuable points behind several time zones away, it’s safe to say that the 25-year-old Dane is playing good hockey alongside the likes of young guns Jacob De La Rose and Devante Smith-Pelly. On Saturday night, the trio combined for 10 of the Canadiens’ 35 shots on Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith, while also chipping in with five hits along the way.
“We’ve been having a little more consistency lately. I think those two young guys are playing really well. They’re skating. They’re working hard. They’re doing all of the right things. I think it’s working out so far,” praised Eller, whose tally originated off a perfect feed from Smith-Pelly, which also happened to be the Scarborough, ON native’s first point with the CH. “Even though we hadn’t won, I think we’ve been doing some good things, gelling more and getting to know each other.”
Smith-Pelly shared similar thoughts after playing a prominent role in helping his new club get back in the win column following losses to San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles.
“We’re finally starting to know what each other’s tendencies are. I think it’s showing out there,” shared Smith-Pelly, who registered 11 shots on goal over the course of the last four games, in addition to dishing out 16 total hits, too. “I think if takes four or five games to get used to guys, especially if you haven’t practiced. I think the last three games we’ve played pretty well together. It hasn’t exactly resulted in points, but it did against Arizona. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
The Canadiens’ bench boss certainly thinks they can. That’s something he made abundantly clear after watching the line turn in another gritty performance in a critical tilt.
“You can see a good level of consistency in their performance as the games go on. They definitely played very well. They had good scoring chances. I liked their work along the boards. They paid a lot of attention to the details that we emphasize,” explained Therrien. “The more they play together, the more you get the sense that chemistry between them is starting to form. They work hard. They play well in the defensive zone. They’re three big guys. They’re not easy to play against. We really like the makeup of that line. It’s good to see they were rewarded with a goal.”
That goal, which came at the 14:48 mark of the second period, stood the test of time primarily because of Carey Price, who turned aside 28 shots to register his seventh shutout of the season. It was Price’s seventh career victory against the Coyotes, who have yet to get the best of the League’s top netminder in as many games.
“Price is always solid. He always gives us a chance to win. Smith was their best player, too. He kept them in the game until the last second. It wasn’t an easy game at all for us,” admitted Eller, who hit double-digits in the goal department for the third time in his career on Saturday night. “We’re not happy with the trip, but at the same time we’ve got to look forward. We’re still in a very good spot, so there’s no reason to feel down on ourselves for too long here. We’ve got a big game coming up on Tuesday [against Tampa Bay]. We’ve got to learn from our mistakes and move forward.”Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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