SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Jason Ward showed why the Montreal Canadiens recalled him from the American Hockey League.
In his first NHL game since the 2000-01 season, Ward had a goal and an assist to lead Montreal to a 4-0 victory over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.
“He’s a guy who every game makes things happen with his work ethic, his intelligence,” said Claude Julien, who coached Ward at Hamilton before replacing the fired Michel Therrien in Montreal in January. “What he did tonight, he’s been doing all year at Hamilton. The guy deserves a chance. He did a good job tonight.”
Ward, the Canadiens’ first-round pick in 1997, had two goals in 44 career games and spent the last two seasons in the minors before being recalled Monday. He had 31 goals and a league-leading 72 points for Hamilton this season.
“When you come out flying in your first game, it feels great,” Ward said. “But this is just one game. One of the things I was good at this year is being consistent and that’s what I want to do every night is play consistent and show that I can play at this level.”
Jose Theodore made 32 saves as the Canadiens handed the Panthers their second consecutive 4-0 loss at home.
The Panthers, who lost to Buffalo Saturday night, also extended their home winless streak to 10 games, a franchise record.
“I don’t have any answers,” Florida center Stephen Weiss said. “We just play simple on the road. We get here and try to do too much and turn the puck over. We’re not as sharp at home, its very evident.”
Yanic Perreault and Niklas Sundstrom each had a goal and an assist for the Canadiens, who won their second in a row after a nine-game winless streak. Marcel Hossa closed out the scoring in the third period.
Florida goalie Roberto Luongo made 27 saves.
The victory moved Montreal to within three points of the eighth-place New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders have two games in hand. The Panthers remained six points out of eighth place, but they also have played two more games than the Islanders.
“Anything can happen. We still have 11 games left,” Canadiens center Mike Ribeiro said. “We had a bad streak of 10 games. Why can’t another team have a bad streak like that? We have to think about ourselves and put the focus on ourselves.”
Florida’s best scoring chance came late in the first period when Viktor Kozlov beat Theodore on a wrist shot from the slot only to have the shot bounce off the left post.
Ward’s goal at 3:01 of the second period gave the Canadiens a 3-0 lead. Luongo stopped Wards backhand from in front of the net, but Ward put the rebound to the left of the Florida goalie.
“Not playing last year, it’s been a while,” Ward said. “It was nice to get one right away.”
After taking a pass from Dackell behind the net, Juneau passed to Sundstrom across the goal mouth. Sundstrom took the pass off his skate before beating Luongo to the short side.
Perreault opened the scoring with his 21st goal of the season at 11:28 of the first period when he caught Luongo out of position on a wrist shot from the boards. After grabbing a loose puck, Perreault whirled around and fired a shot that beat Luongo to the short side.
“It’s very embarrassing,” Luongo said. “I was looking at the slot to see if a guy was open and they shot at the net. It really caught me off guard. That’s a tough goal to give up, especially in the first period.
“When you give up a goal like that it cuts the guys’ legs off a little bit. I’m responsible and it’s tough to bounce back after that. I have to do a betterjob.”
Defenseman Igor Kravchuk, signed Tuesday by Florida after being out of the league all season, didn’t play. … Fans at the Office Depot Center booed the Panthers during a couple of second-period power plays. … The Panthers have now failed to score more than two goals in any of their last 10 games. … Florida has never led after the first period during its winless home streak…. Perreault snapped his streak of 14 games without a goal.