NEW YORK — Nate Thompson scored on the rebound of a shot by Nick Cousins with 1:07 to play in regulation to give the Canadiens a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers Friday at Madison Square Garden.
It was only the second win in the past 11 games for the Canadiens but, despite their miserable record, they are back in second place in the Atlantic Division with 32 points for a one-point edge over Florida and Buffalo.
The game was a departure from the Nov. 23 meeting between these teams at the Bell Centre. That was a free-wheeling affair which the Rangers won 6-5. Both teams played Thursday night and there should have been signs of fatigue, but the contest was played at a quick pace. The difference this around was both teams made fewer mistakes and Carey Price and Alexander Georgiev were both sharp.
An injury to Jesperi Kotkaniemi boosted the number of Canadiens on the injured reserve list to four and presented a new challenge to the team’s depth.
Coach Claude Julien juggled his forward lines and, with the Canadiens playing their second game in as many nights, he tried to use four lines and balance the playing time.
The biggest change was the return of Nick Suzuki to centre. He was on the third line with Nick Cousins and Jordan Weal. Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen, who had been playing with Kotkaniemi, moved up to the No. 2 line with Max Domi at centre.
The only line that remained unchanged was the top line centred by Phil Danault, and it gave the Canadiens a 1-0 lead after one period. The Canadiens took advantage of turnover to create a 2-on-1 opportunity and Brendan Gallagher redirected a pass from Danault for his 13th goal of the season. Gallagher has scored in each of the Canadiens’ last three games.
Otto Leskinen received a passing grade for his work in a limited role in his NHL debut Thursday, but the Rangers tied the game early in the second period after the Finn turned the puck over and provided Brendan Smith with a breakaway. Smith is a fourth-liner who has also played defence, but he showed some top-end skill when he faked a shot and then continued to the net where he beat Carey Price with a backhander.
The Montreal penalty-kill continues to show improvement. The Rangers had two power plays and, while they fired seven shots on goal, they didn’t score. Over the past five games, Montreal has killed 12 of 13 power plays. The Canadiens drew only one penalty and managed only one shot with the extra man.
Prior to the game, coach Claude Julien confirmed that Kotkaniemi suffered a concussion when he was upended by Nikita Zadorov early in the first period of the 3-2 loss to Colorado on Thursday.
The Canadiens have a rare Saturday night off. They don’t play again until Tuesday when they travel to Pittsburgh in the first half of a back-to-back. They are home to the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday.