The last time the Montreal Canadiens returned home from a road game, it was following a season-ending loss in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
They’re back in Quebec on entirely different terms after sweeping a season-opening trip, and the next task is a home-opening victory Thursday night against the New York Rangers to establish their best start in franchise history.
The Canadiens (4-0-0) won their first four home games last season, but it was their first win in a home opener in six seasons. A second straight would give them their first five-game winning streak to begin a season, and they last won their first four games in 1977-78 on their way to a third of four straight Stanley Cups. This season marks the fourth time they’ve started with four wins, and the previous three have ended with titles.
No pressure, Michel Therrien.
"We couldn’t be happier about the way things played out," the fourth-year Montreal coach told the team’s official website. "I really like the character of this team. Starting the season with four road games can be a double-edged sword. We were happy to go on the road, but to finish up in Pittsburgh against one of the league’s powerhouse teams – and win – really shows the character of our team."
The run, which follows last season’s playoff loss to Tampa Bay, has included strong individual efforts with one Canadien having a two-goal game in each win. Max Pacioretty did it for the second time in Tuesday’s 3-2 victory in Pittsburgh, giving the club’s points leader from the previous four seasons four goals and two assists.
"I couldn’t be more impressed with the way we handled that," said Pacioretty, who scored in two of three games against the Rangers last season. "We’re having fun. I think everyone’s contributing, and that’s what makes this the most fun right now. We have everybody on board, and everyone has played a huge role. If we have that right mindset and everyone feels good about themselves, the better we’re going to play game after game."
Having a reigning Hart and Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender helps with that. Carey Price has played three games and posted a 1.67 goals-against average and .945 save percentage.
Price has been even better against the Rangers with a 6-1-0 record, 0.43 GAA and .986 save percentage over the last three regular seasons against the Rangers (3-1-0).
Montreal hasn’t lost a regular-season series with New York since 2007-08, going 17-7-1 since. At home, the Canadiens have gone 11-1-1 in that span with five goals allowed and six shutouts in the last 10.
New York’s unbeaten start was halted with Tuesday’s 4-1 home loss to Winnipeg. The Rangers also started with two road victories and have won 12 of 13 on the road dating to March 8.
The Rangers led the Jets 1-0 after Mats Zuccarello’s first-period goal and outshot the Jets 41-29.
"We had 41 shots so it’s not that we didn’t have some looks," Derek Stepan said. "We’ll have to make adjustments, we’ll have to get some guys in front of the goaltender and find ways to score goals. I think our main focus now is obviously to get better as a team and that’s something you always strive for."
Zuccarello has three goals in his last three games, while Henrik Lundqvist has played every game in goal and will start again.
Lundqvist is 4-6-2 with a 3.81 GAA and .878 save percentage in 13 regular-season contests at the Bell Centre for his worst numbers in any venue where he’s appeared at least five times. It’s only gotten worse over an 0-4-1 span with a 4.30 GAA.