MONTREAL â€” The Winnipeg Jets were keen on spoiling Claude Julien’s first game in charge of the Montreal Canadiens, and they did just that.
The Jets downed the Canadiens 3-1 on Saturday in Julien’s return to Montreal with Mathieu Perreault scoring the winner in the third period.
The defeat extended Montreal’s losing streak to three games. The Canadiens have only one victory in their last eight.
“We knew we were going to have everything thrown at us in the first period,” said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. “If you can withstand that, some of that excitement and some of that emotion from the coaching change and all the buzz around the city starts to wear off.
“We knew they were going to be amped up. Any time there’s a coaching change, it makes everyone stand at attention.”
But Montreal (31-20-8) was sloppy in its first game back following a bye week, turning the puck over 18 times.
Perreault broke a 1-1 deadlock just 1:16 into the third period, sending a backhand shot from the slot over Carey Price’s shoulder after a nifty one-handed pass from Dustin Byfuglien.
Rookie Patrik Laine, who saw his first six shots stopped by Price, added an empty net insurance goal at 18:43 of the third. The 18-year-old also had an assist on Perreault’s goal and now has 50 points this season.
Joel Armia had the other goal for the Jets (27-29-5) and Connor Hellebuyck stopped 19-of-20 shots.
“Anything close to your goal and it gets loud in here,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice of Montreal’s Bell Centre. “We got out of the gate right and strong. We were prepared for a heavy push but we kept it quiet for the most part.”
Montreal’s carelessness with the puck cost the home side on Winnipeg’s first goal.
With the Canadiens on the power play in the second period, defenceman Nathan Beaulieu skated out of his own end, then tried to dangle the puck around Armia in the neutral zone. The Jets winger easily stole the puck, skated in on Price and scored Winnipeg’s sixth short-handed goal of the season to tie the game at 4:52.
Price made 30 saves in his 15th loss of the season.
“We were in between in a lot of areas,” said Julien, who replaced Michel Therrien as head coach on Tuesday. “We weren’t quite sure. And that’s not system. It’s confidence. We need to find our confidence in the next couple of days.
“This team is a much better team than what you saw today.”
Julien put Alex Galchenyuk on the first line with Alexander Radulov and captain Max Pacioretty and it paid instant dividends on Montreal’s first goal.
A rare pinch from defenceman Andrei Markov on Wheeler forced a giveaway in Winnipeg’s zone, with the puck falling right to Galchenyuk. The centreman then found Pacioretty, who gave it back to Markov in the crease for the easy tap-in at 11:04 of the first period.
“It wasn’t a strong game,” said Pacioretty, who has seven points in his last four games. “We got outplayed, especially in our own end. It was tough to create anything offensively when you’re playing in your own end. That’s an area we want to clean up.”
Michael McCarron, recalled from the American Hockey League’s St. John’s IceCaps on Friday, centred the fourth line for Montreal. David Desharnais and Sven Andrighetto were healthy scratches.
Notes: The Jets have two more games remaining on their four-game road trip. â€¦ Markov was also on the ice on Jan. 18, 2003, when Julien made his coaching debut in his first stint with the Canadiens.
Kelsey Patterson, The Canadian Press