MONTREAL – The New York Rangers lost another game, and may have lost another two key defensemen in the process.
The line of Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Cole and Lars Eller each had a goal and an assist and Carey Price made 17 saves for his second shutout of the season as the Montreal Canadiens handed the New York Rangers their third straight loss, 3-0 Saturday night at Bell Centre.
Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh left the game after taking a hit from Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty at 7:20 of the second period and did not return.
Pacioretty was given a two-minute minor for boarding on the play that left McDonagh bloodied. McDonagh had previously hit Pacioretty hard into the boards near the Canadiens' bench and the Montreal forward was slow to get up.
Then, with just over one minute remaining in regulation time, Dan Girardi blocked a P.K. Subban one-timer with his right ankle and had to be helped from the ice as he was unable to put any weight on his foot.
Rangers coach John Tortorella began his post-game news conference by asking the gathered reporters how high they believed Pacioretty jumped when he hit McDonagh, but he would not go into details about the severity of neither McDonagh's nor Girardi's injuries.
"We have injuries. We've got to keep on playing, what can you do?" Tortorella said. "We've got to figure it out and try to find ourselves, keep our wits about ourselves and keep playing."
The potential loss of McDonagh and Girardi would make this difficult stretch for the Rangers (8-7-2) an unmitigated disaster.
Over the course of the past five games, the Rangers have gone 1-2-2 and lost top line left wing Rick Nash, fourth line checker Arron Asham, defenseman Michael Del Zotto and now McDonagh. Also, star players Brad Richards was benched for the entire third period in the first game of this five-game slide, while Marian Gaborik did not see a single shift in the third period Saturday night. The Rangers have scored just eight goals in those five games and allowed 14.
"We're going to have to really dig in and find a way, and that's going to be everybody," said Rangers goaltender Martin Biron, who stopped 15 of 18 shots in just his third start of the season. "We've got pretty much the same core group of guys that were here the last few years, and we were hard to play against. We've got to get back to that. That's the key for us."
The Canadiens (12-4-2), on the other hand, continued rolling after blowing two two-goal leads to the New York Islanders on Thursday night to lose 4-3 in overtime, snapping a five-game winning streak but immediately starting a potential new one by beating the Rangers for the second time in a span of four days.
"Everyone has responsibilities and everyone is called upon to contribute," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "You can't just get production from one line. If you want to have success over a long period of time, you need everyone to contribute in all their roles. That's what we have right now."
With the win the Canadiens reclaimed sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference, two points up on the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils and four points clear of the Boston Bruins in the Northeast Division. The Bruins, however, hold four games in hand on Montreal.
Price had just about the easiest shutout a goalie can get, rarely being tested with quality chances as his teammates frustrated the Rangers with its defensive style in much the same they did in Tuesday night's 3-1 win at Madison Square Garden.
"I think our team's pretty comfortable playing in these types of games now," Price said. "I think we have a lot of confidence in our puck support, we've got a lot of speed and we're on the puck on both sides of it, defensively and offensively. That's paying dividends, we're taking away time and space from everybody and we're frustrating other teams."
With the return of rookie Brendan Gallagher from a concussion, Therrien moved Cole onto a line with Eller and Galchenyuk and saw immediate results.
"Speed kills, really," Eller said. "We used our speed to get the puck and had patience with the puck to play around with it and not give it away and we scored on the chances we got. We were effective around the net."
Cole surprised Biron with a quick low shot at 1:20 of the second period to score his third goal of the season, snapping a nine-game stretch where he failed to get a point.
Galchenyuk made it to 2-0 Canadiens at 13:36 of the second when he took a drop pass from Eller and tried to cut in front of the net for an attempt on goal. As he made his move, the puck deflected off the stick of Girardi and up and over Biron for the rookie's third goal of the season and second in as many games against New York.
"They had a bit of puck luck … but teams always say you make your luck and you make your bounces," Biron said. "They were able to do that and we had no response for that."
Eller increased the lead to 3-0 on a power play at 19:34 off a nice pass from Galchenyuk, one-timing it through a Cole screen and past Biron for his second goal of the season.
Rangers rookie Christian Thomas, the son of former NHLer Steve Thomas, made his NHL debut in a game his teammates and coach would like to put behind them as soon as possible. The Rangers will not practice Sunday and host the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday to open a four-game homestand, one that could define this compressed season for a team that was expected to be a Stanley Cup contender but is currently barely above .500.
"We can't get into a panic mode," Tortorella said. "We just need to get more minutes consistently out of our players. It's just a matter of trying to find yourself, hope some good things happen and gain some confidence."