MONTREAL - On a night when they were giving away golf clubs at the Bell Centre, the Toronto Maple Leafs put the ball on the tee for the Montreal Canadiens.
The battered and bleeding Habitants - they’ve got more stitches than a baseball right now - managed to drag their bedraggled lineup to another win and another day of hanging onto sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
You have to wonder how Les Habitants keep doing it.
Well, not giving up any goals - Carey Price put up his sixth shutout of the season and got his 27th win, tied for the league lead - is a good start.
The Habs beat the Leafs 3-0, taking advantage of some Leafs gaffes in their own end, and are now 31-20-6 despite missing three of their regular defencemen. Veteran Hal Gill was out with an upper body injury, joining number one defenceman Andrei Markov and number two guy Josh Gorges, both of whom are out for the rest of the season after reconstructive knee surgeries.
Canadiens coach Jacques Martin cobbled together a blue line with two rookies - P.K. Subban and Yannick Weber - and greybeards Roman Hamrlik (two assists Saturday night) and Jaroslav Spacek - sporting a fierce shiner from the Boston brawl Wednesday night - grinding it out.
In the absence of scoring winger Mike Cammalleri, who missed his 10th game Saturday night with a shoulder injury, the Canadiens got production from a couple of rookies: a goal and an assist from David Desharnais and another assist from Max Pacioretty.
Desharnais, along with Pacioretty, has helped fill the void created by the absence of Cammalleri. (Cammalleri skated again Saturday and when asked if he would go on the Habs’ western roadie later next week, he told QMI Agency, “I hope to.”)
Pacioretty - who got crunched from behind in the third period by Leafs defender Luke Schenn and will be evaluated Sunday - now has six goals and five assists in his last 11 games. Desharnais, simply put, had the best game of his young NHL career.
“It’s tough to bring it every game, in and out, but that’s what I’m going to try and do again,” said Desharnais.
Desharnais isn’t exactly what the doctor or the Habs ordered, another small forward, but he adds to the Canadiens’ quickness which is their main weapon.
Subban, meanwhile, continued to rile up the opposition, fighting with Toronto’s Joffery Lupul near the end of the first period, leaving Lupul to join the growing list of opponents - the line forms behind Philadephia’s Mike Richards - who have complained about Subban one way or another.
“He said he was trying to get his helmet off and I told him I thought we were just going to undo the chin strap. I didn’t know. The good thing is I didn’t hit him. He said that was fine. There was no animosity there. We both wanted to go,” said Subban. “He’s a new addition to his team so he’s probably wanting to show the guys he can step up and I wanted to respond to our team ... there’s nothing there, just an honest fight.”
The Canadiens avoided losing four games in a row for the first time this season, thanks in large part to the kids.
Price is 23, Subban is 21 and Pacioretty is 22.
Desharnais is the old guy in the group.
“Just before the game I was sitting there thinking, ‘it’s Saturday night against Toronto and I’m part of it.’ It was pretty exciting,” said Desharnais, the 24-year-old who is carving out a niche for himself after starting the season in Hamilton of the American Hockey League.
It only got better for the undrafted free agent.
At the end of the night, Desharnais was tossing pucks into the crowd as the game’s first star and providing one answer as to how the Habs keep doing it.