MONTREAL – One day after the NHL Trade Deadline passed, Michael Ryder did his best to show that Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin did indeed make a move to improve his team this season -- he just did it six weeks earlier.
Ryder scored twice and added an assist as the Canadiens handed the Winnipeg Jets their fifth straight regulation loss, 4-1 at Bell Centre on Thursday.
Ryder, acquired with a third-round draft pick on Feb. 26 from the Dallas Stars in a trade for Erik Cole, has nine goals and eight assists in his 17 games for Montreal. The nine goals have come in his past 11 games.
"If they didn't make any trades at the deadline it shows the confidence they have in us as a group, and I think we proved that tonight," Ryder said. "It was my first time getting traded, that was the biggest part of it all. The guys welcomed me in and made me feel comfortable right away. I was just trying to come in and do what I can to help this team to keep winning."
Ryder has done exactly that, with remarkable precision. The Canadiens were 12-4-3 when Ryder was acquired, and they are 12-4-2 since.
Backup goalie Peter Budaj made 33 saves to run his season record to 6-1-1 for the Canadiens (24-8-5), who won for the fourth time in five games to maintain their one-point lead atop the Northeast Division over the Boston Bruins, 1-0 winners against the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden earlier in the evening.
"I'm feeling pretty confident right now," said Budaj, who has won six straight starts. "But it's not just me, the whole team's playing really well in front of me."
Montreal also got goals from Brian Gionta and rookie Alex Galchenyuk, and Lars Eller and P.K. Subban each had two assists.
Alexander Burmistrov scored his first in 18 games to provide all the offense for the Jets (18-19-2), who have six goals over the course of their five-game slide; three of those six have come from their forwards.
Burmistrov was not the least bit relieved his scoring drought came to an end.
"That was not what I'm looking for. I'm looking for a win," he said. "We're battling for a playoff spot, so I don't care if I score or not."
That battle got a lot harder Thursday.
The Jets' loss, coupled with a 2-1 shootout win by the Washington Capitals against the New York Islanders, dropped Winnipeg from the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and the Southeast Division lead all the way down to 10th in the conference standings. The Capitals and the Jets each have 38 points, but Washington has a game in hand and therefore owns the division lead.
"It shouldn't be surprising; we've lost five straight games. You reap what you sow," said Jets forward Blake Wheeler, who has no points in his past six games. "We've played well enough to make the playoffs and now all of a sudden we've played ourselves out of the playoffs. I guess the good news is we know we're capable of it. There's time to fix it, it's just a matter of getting it done."
Jets coach Claude Noel used defenseman Dustin Byfuglien at right wing with Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little to start the game in an attempt to provide some sort of spark. It didn't work, and Byfuglien found himself back on defense only to be benched after Galchenyuk's goal made it 4-1 at 7:43 of the third.
"I just didn't think he was very effective up front, I didn't think that they had enough speed. We moved him back, and that went the way it went," Noel said. "It's not the first time that they put a puck at the net and he's standing beside the guy without taking his stick. So after a while you just can't continue down that road. If you're not going to make changes, then don't play."
Noel was asked whether waking up Friday morning seeing the Jets sitting 10th in the standings could have a positive effect on his players.
"It's not like we don't know what's going on," Noel responded. "I don't think you can expect to lose five straight games and think things aren't going to change. It's not like players don't know what's going on. We know that if we continue down this road it isn't good, that's why there's urgency. We're running out of games. We know that."
Subban continued his torrid production offensively for the Canadiens with his two assists, giving him seven goals and 17 assists in his past 21 games. With 30 points in 31 games, Subban took over the NHL lead in scoring by a defenseman.
The Jets opened the scoring on Burmistrov's goal off a nice feed from Grant Clitsome, but they relinquished that lead 2:31 later when Ryder beat Ondrej Pavelec on a power play for his first of the night off a Gionta rebound at 10:47.
Ryder gave the Canadiens the lead 2-1 at 2:03 of the second period on another rebound, this time of a Subban shot, and Gionta made it 3-1 when he stood in front and had an Eller shot go in off him on a power play at 5:51.
The Jets thought they had cut the deficit to 3-2 in the first minute of the third, but a Tobias Enstrom goal was immediately waved off because Wheeler was in Budaj's crease.
Galchenyuk snapped an 18-game goal drought at 7:43 of the third period, his fourth of the season, to give the Canadiens a three-goal margin.