The Montreal Canadiens have failed to score in a three-game slide against the San Jose Sharks, who are desperate to stay in the playoff race.
Opponents are increasingly coming up empty against Montreal’s Carey Price, and the Canadiens figure to turn to him Saturday night when they host the Sharks.
Montreal (45-20-7) has been outscored 10-0 in its last three matchups with San Jose, the most recent a 4-0 road loss March 2. Price made 33 saves, falling to 1-4-1 with a 3.15 GAA in his career against the Sharks.
He’s the top candidate for the Vezina Trophy, leading the NHL in wins (39) and goals-against average (1.89). He has eight shutouts, posting his league-best fourth since the All-Star break with 31 saves in Thursday’s 4-0 home win over Carolina.
"The level that Carey’s at this year is just as good a goaltending performance as I’ve ever seen," winger Dale Weise said. "I’ve been a hockey fan for 20 years, and it’s as good a performance as I’ve seen."
Price is three wins shy of the club record shared by Hall of Famers Jacques Plante and Ken Dryden.
Montreal owns the Eastern Conference’s best record and is trying to hold off Tampa Bay for the Atlantic Division title as it closes in on a playoff berth.
The stakes are far higher for the Sharks, who are in danger of having their 10-year postseason streak end. San Jose (35-28-8) is five points behind Calgary for the Pacific’s final automatic spot.
”You’ve just got to take it day by day, to be honest with you,” center Joe Thornton said. ”You can’t look too far ahead and you’re definitely not looking behind you. You’ve just got to stay in the moment."
The Sharks improved to 1-1-0 on this seven-game East trip with Thursday’s 4-1 win over Toronto. Thornton assisted on goals by Logan Couture and Melker Karlsson to reach 900 in his career.
Montreal’s Max Pacioretty is fourth in the NHL with 35 goals while San Jose’s Joe Pavelski is tied for fifth with 34. Pacioretty is tied with Chicago’s Jonathan Toews for the league lead with 41 points at home.
The Canadiens showed Thursday they can get offense from elsewhere. Fourth-liner Weise had a goal and an assist for his first multi-point game in more than a month.
"We’ve got depth and I really appreciate what our fourth line gives us, gives us an intensity, gives us offensive zone time and lately they’ve been able to score some big goals for us," coach Michel Therrien said. "Like I said before in the past, you need contributions from everyone, not only the forwards but the defense too as well."
Center David Desharnais, who ended a nine-game goal drought Thursday, is uncertain after missing practice Friday with the flu.
San Jose’s Antti Niemi made 27 saves Thursday, two days after he was pulled in the first period for yielding three goals on eight shots in a 5-2 loss at Winnipeg. Niemi has shutouts in his last two starts against Montreal.
"He struggled a bit in Winnipeg but bounced back and when he does that, everyone else seems to follow," coach Todd McLellan said.