MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers are moving in opposite directions nearly a third of the way through the season, but that's not unexpected.
What's surprising is the direction each team is going.
Brendan Gallagher and Rene Bourque each had a goal and an assist, and Peter Budaj made 18 saves to earn his first win of the season as the Canadiens ran their win streak to three games with a 4-1 victory against the struggling Flyers on Saturday.
The victory allowed the Canadiens (9-4-1) to take over first place in the Northeast Division from the idle Boston Bruins, who hold two games in hand.
Following a 6-0 beating at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs on home ice last Saturday that was Montreal's third loss in a row, the Canadiens swept a two-game road trip in Florida before soundly defeating the Flyers to erase the only rough patch they've gone through thus far.
"I think it was important for us to rebound," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "The guys worked hard all week and they were concentrated. We're getting better with every game in the way we compete. Tonight was a nice team win, you couldn't ask for a better one."
The Flyers (6-9-1) lost for the second time in as many nights and a third time in four games to remain near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
The Flyers have played more games than anyone in the League and could be last in the East if the three teams behind them win their games in hand.
"We were concerned this morning before the game. We were concerned before the last game," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said tersely. "We're not a in a position where anybody isn't concerned. We're not understanding the fact that we need to win hockey games."
David Desharnais and Tomas Plekanec scored, and Max Pacioretty added two assists for the Canadiens. Danny Briere got the lone goal for the Flyers.
It was the first time in nine games the Flyers were unable to generate more than a goal, and captain Claude Giroux said he and his teammates did not want it bad enough to get a second one.
"There's no compete," Giroux said. "We're not winning battles. We're just going through the motions. You know, we're a young team that can skate. We should be winning more battles than this. It's just frustrating to see. I know I have to be better, but a team is 20 guys and you need everybody to show up."
Things could be getting worse for the Flyers. This was the second of four straight games on the road, and their record away from home is 2-8-0.
Brian Boucher made 25 saves in goal to lose the battle of the backup goalies in his first start of the season.
Budaj was called on to start when Carey Price came down with a stomach flu Friday night. The Flyers came out very slow after having lost 5-3 to the New Jersey Devils on Friday night, getting their second shot on goal at 14:23 of the first and not getting another one before the intermission.
"When you don't have shots it's obviously harder to stay in the game, but that's what the guys did," Budaj said. "They eliminated their chances."
Gallagher scored his fifth of the season, moving him within one of the League leaders for rookies, but he did not finish the game after falling awkwardly into the boards early in the third period. Pacioretty also left the game after crashing into the goalpost in the Philadelphia end at 11:52 of the third.
Therrien did not have an update on either after the game other than they were both upper-body injuries.
Therrien moved Gallagher onto a line with Pacioretty and Desharnais for the first time, and the trio combined for five points.
"[Gallagher] played a great game, and you know what, when you have a good work ethic and you work hard, good things happen to you," Therrien said. "He seemed to light up that line."
Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who did not play in the third period Friday night in New Jersey, was in uniform and played a regular shift. But he was victimized on the opening goal when Gallagher took a Pacioretty feed, quickly stopped to shed Timonen's coverage and beat Boucher with a quick shot at 8:53 of the first period.
It was the 11th time in their 14 games the Canadiens scored the first goal, and they improved to 8-2-1 when doing so.
Desharnais scored his fourth of the season at 1:15 of the second on a nice effort by Pacioretty to get the puck out front from behind the net before the Canadiens took four straight penalties in the period.
But Briere's goal did not come on a power play; what appeared to be a fanned shot hit the skate of Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov and dribbled past Budaj at 13:56 of the second. The goal came on the Flyers' seventh shot.
It might have been their eighth were it not for P.K. Subban, who saved one by blocking a Tye McGinn shot with a wide-open net after Budaj turned over the puck.
"I've got to buy him a dinner for that one," Budaj said. "I messed it up pretty badly."
Plekanec re-established Montreal's two-goal margin at 4:32 of the third period on some nice work by Bourque, who blocked a Brayden Schenn clearing attempt before finding Plekanec alone in the slot area. Plekanec moved across the net and tried to surprise Boucher by spinning around for a shot, but it was blocked by Braydon Coburn. Plekanec was able to retrieve the puck and, with Boucher still sitting on the ice, fired a shot high for his team-best seventh of the season.
Bourque iced the victory with an empty-net goal at 18:56 of the third.