MONTREAL - A coaching change looks to have done wonders for the Atlanta Thrashers.
Ilya Kovalchuk and Bryan Little scored in a shootout as the Thrashers pulled out a 3-2 victory over the Canadiens on Tuesday night, ending Montreal's four-game winning streak. It was a second win in a row and a fourth in six games since general manager Don Waddell replaced the fired Bob Hartley behind the bench.
"We lost our first few games and they wanted to make to a change, so they fired the coach," said Kovalchuk, whose team is now 4-8-0. "That was shock to everyone.
"We started to play more patient hockey and things are going our way now."
Saku Koivu had the lone shootout goal for Montreal.
Kovalchuk and Little became the first NHL players to beat rookie goaltender Carey Price in a shootout. The 20-year-old had stopped all eight shooters in a win Saturday night in Pittsburgh.
The Canadiens needed a power-play goal from Chris Higgins with 1:58 left in regulation time to send the game into overtime.
Goals 57 seconds apart by Eric Perrin and Slava Kozlov late in the second period had put Atlanta ahead in a game it dominated for the first 40 minutes.
"It was our worst game of the season," said Higgins, whose team started a four-game homestand. "It was so embarrassing, if I was watching on TV I'd have turned it off. "We played for the fans a bit. We tried to be too cute."
Alex Kovalev scored in the middle period for Montreal, which needed a fine effort by Price in his first start at home to keep it close.
He opened the shootout by stopping Kozlov's reach-back move, but Little scored on a deke to the backhand and Kovalchuk scored on a wrist shot.
"I know Little, I played with him at the world juniors, and he usually shoots, but this time he deked," said Price.
It was the fifth game of a seven-game road trip for Atlanta, which had a shootout win last week in Toronto.
The next stop is Ottawa on Thursday, where former Senator Marian Hossa will try to snap out of a five-games pointless drought.
Atlanta outshot Montreal 33-29 in regulation but the teams ended up even at 33-33. The Canadiens drew some braying early from the 21,273 Bell Centre spectators for one of their weakest efforts so far this season.
Price shone as the Thrashers came out strong and outshot the Canadiens 13-2 in a scoreless first period. The rookie was particularly sharp in making quick saves on Kovalchuk and Little 13 minutes in.
"We wanted to come out and get the jump on them because we know they're a good first-period team," said Waddell, who is impressed with his team's turnaround since starting the season 0-6-0.
"Especially the way we're doing it - winning tough games on the road," he said. "(Goaltender) Johan Hedberg has really stepped up for us since (Kari) Lehtonen's injury."
Montreal scored on only its fourth shot of the game, as Kovalev wristed a low shot from the off wing past Hedberg on a power play 8:10 into the second period.
Mistakes by Canadiens defencemen then led to a pair of Atlanta goals.
A miscommunication between Price and Andrei Markov over which would play the puck at the side of the net led to Markov accidentally tipping the puck into the crease where Perrin buried it from within a cluster of four Canadiens at 16:16.
Defenceman Josh Gorges made the second mistake when threw a soft, backhand pass across his own zone, where Kozlov grabbed it, went in alone and scored on a deke to the backhand.
"That was inexcusable," said Gorges, who is replacing the injured Francis Bouillon.
The Thrashers killed off a 52-second two-man Montreal advantage late in the third, but when Todd White was sent off for hooking at 17:50, Higgins was on the doorstep to tie the game.
His linemate Michael Ryder, who had a dreadful game, was by then benched, playing only two minutes in the third period.
Notes - In the pre-game ceremony, Roman Hamrlik, Bryan Smolinski and Alex Kovalev were presented silver sticks by NHL vice-president Colin Campbell and Canadiens legend Henri Richard to mark the 1,000th game all three players have reached this season. . . Patrice Brisebois played his 800th game as a Canadien. . . Steve McCarthy, who is minus-12, Brett Sterling and Brad Larsen were scratched for Atlanta. Andrei Kostitsyn sat for Montreal, while Bouillon (left shoulder injury) and Garth Murray (broken ankle) are injured.