BUFFALO, N.Y. - Tomas Plekanec had three power-play goals for his first hat trick, and rookie Carey Price won his second straight start since taking over as Montreal's top goalie in the Canadiens' 6-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night.
Plekanec added an assist, Mark Streit had a goal and two assists, and Alex Kovalev had four assists for Montreal. The Canadiens moved ahead of idle Ottawa into first place in the Northeast Division for the first time this season with its sixth win in eight games.
Andrei Kastsitsyn and Siarhei Kastsitsyn also scored for the Canadiens, who had lost the last three meetings against Buffalo.
Thomas Vanek had a goal and assist, and Tim Connolly added a goal for the Sabres, who have dropped three of four. Buffalo remained tied for eighth place with Philadelphia with 71 points, but the Flyers hold the tiebreaker for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Montreal's top-ranked power-play unit roughed up the Sabres by going 3-for-3, and has connected five times over the past two games to raise its efficiency rating to over 25 per cent.
The 20-year-old Price, handed the No. 1 goalie duties following Tuesday's trade of Cristobal Huet to Washington, finished with 31 saves.
Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller had 27 saves.
The banged-up Sabres front line was helped by the return of wingers Drew Stafford and Maxim Afinogenov. Stafford returned after missing 10 games because of an ankle injury, while Afinogenov missed the past 26 games because of a groin tear.
Plekanec scored his first goal of the game just 84 seconds in, and Streit made it 2-0 midway through the first period.
Vanek cut the deficit in half with his team-leading 27th 3:56 into the second period before Plekanec broke the game open with consecutive goals 11 minutes apart to give the Canadiens a 4-1 lead after two.
Andrei Kastsitsyn scored 2:39 into the third before Connolly's power-play goal made it 5-2 with 8:57 left in regulation.
Siarhei Kastsitsyn capped the scoring with 2:28 remaining.
Notes: The Sabres wrap up their season-high, five-game homestand on Sunday against league-leading Detroit. ... Miller was making his 18th straight start. ... Buffalo C Jochen Hecht missed his fourth game because of a pulled muscle in his leg. ... Montreal D Andrei Markov missed about five minutes of the second period after Buffalo forward Patrick Kaleta's shoulder connected squarely with Markov's jaw on a check in the Canadiens zone. ... Roy extended his career-long points streak to eight games with an assist on Vanek's goal.