The Canadiens kicked off a six-game, 10-day road swing on Tuesday with a 5-3 victory over the New York Islanders. Montreal, which is 4-0-2 in its last six games, was playing for the first time since the Olympic break.
“I felt OK,” said Saku Koivu, who led all Olympic players with 11 points for silver medal-winning Finland. “I knew it was going to be a little tough, but once the game got going, I was able to get in the right spots.”
Koivu had three assists, including one on each of Christopher Higgins’ two goals. Higgins has nine goals in his first full season with the Canadiens, who are in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
“I think everybody who plays with him appreciates his work ethic and the way he’s maintained that in his first season,” said Koivu, who plays with Higgins on Montreal’s top line. “That’s not easy to do.”
Craig Rivet, rookie Alexander Perezhogin and Michael Ryder added power-play goals for the Canadiens, who are 14-1-1 when scoring at least twice with the man advantage. Cristobal Huet started his seventh straight game for injured goalie Jose Theodore and made 32 saves.
The Canadiens are 8-6-2 since Bob Gainey took over the coaching duties on Jan. 14 for the fired Claude Julien. They are 18-6-3 when scoring first this season, but are 0-20-2 when trailing entering the third period, making them one of five teams in the NHL that has not come back from a third-period deficit to earn a victory.
The Panthers pounded the Tampa By Lightning 8-2 on Tuesday in their first game back from the break. Chris Gratton, Olli Jokinen and Joe Nieuwendyk each had two goals for Florida, which trails Montreal by eight points in the conference standings.
Gratton has six goals and six assists during a five-game point streak.
“We needed to get off to a good start, and that’s as good as it gets,” Nieuwendyk said. “But just like we put the losses behind us, we’ve got to put this behind us, too. We’ve got to get ready for a tough game against Montreal.”
Roberto Luongo, who has started 28 straight games dating to Dec. 10, made 32 saves. Florida was 6-6-3 in its last 15 games before the break.