The Montreal Canadiens are alone in first place in the Northeast Division. They hope to hold on to that distinction after visiting the team with the worst record in the Western Conference.
The Canadiens go for their ninth win in 12 games on Saturday when they visit the last-place Los Angeles Kings in the first meeting between these clubs in more than two years.
Montreal (37-22-9) has scored 3.5 goals per game to go 8-3-0 in its last 11. Combined with the struggles of Northeast rival Ottawa, that surge has given the Canadiens a two-point lead in the division over the Senators, who visit Phoenix on Saturday.
The Canadiens fell behind 2-1 early in the third period on Thursday night, but answered with three goals of their own to seal a 4-2 win over the Coyotes.
“We want to play better, but tonight was a huge two points,” Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said.
The late offensive surge accompanied a strong effort from rookie goaltender Carey Price, who stopped 37 shots while playing through a sunburn he got while fishing in the Phoenix area.
“I don’t think anything would have kept him out of the game tonight,” Carbonneau said of Price, who gave up six goals Monday in losing to San Jose in the first game of the Canadiens’ four-game road trip.
“We needed a big performance from Carey, and we got that. After the performance he had the other day in San Jose, he wanted to come back and play well. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think the game would have gone this way.”
Meanwhile, the Kings’ search for stability in net will likely continue with Jason LaBarbera sidelined for the rest of the season after undergoing sports hernia surgery Wednesday.
Los Angeles (27-37-5), which has used 10 goalies since the beginning of last season, may give Erik Ersberg a closer look after the rookie’s performance on Thursday. Ersberg stopped 40 shots in his third NHL start to notch his first career win, 2-0 over Ottawa.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid,” said Ersberg, who helped the Kings snap a five-game losing streak (0-3-2). “It’s a great opportunity to play in this league and show what you can do. It feels good to get some games up here. I’m happy for every game I get. That’s why I came over here - to play in this league. When you play a couple of games, you want to get more.”
However, Ersberg might sit out against Montreal in favor of veteran Dan Cloutier, who’s 6-3-0 with a 2.04 goals-against average in 10 career games against the Canadiens. He has won his last six starts against them, but hasn’t faced Montreal since Nov. 25, 2003 while with Vancouver.
Whoever starts for Los Angles can expect to be challenged by Montreal forwards Alexei Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec. Kovalev has four goals and 14 assists during the Canadiens’ 8-3-0 stretch, and Plekanec has six goals and two assists during a personal four-game point streak.
This is the first meeting between the Canadiens and the Kings since Montreal won 3-2 at home on Dec. 3, 2005. The Canadiens, who have won eight of the last 11 in the series, haven’t visited Los Angeles since a 4-2 victory on March 6, 2004.