It's taken some time, but Montreal forward Lars Eller is finally finding his place in the Canadiens' lineup.
Eller and linemates Erik Cole and Alex Galchenyuk each scored a goal and an assist to lead the Canadiens to a 3-0 win over the New York Rangers on Saturday night.
A healthy scratch in the Canadiens' second and third games of the season, the 23-year-old Dane has earned his place in the lineup since returning. And while he hasn't always found the scoresheet, he's doing the right things on the ice.
"At some point in your career you have to define what kind of player you're going to be and make some decisions. I feel that's where I'm at in my career right now," he said.
After bouncing around the lineup in his first two seasons and spending a good part of the first month of the current campaign centring the fourth line, Eller has more recently been paired with Galchenyuk, with different wingers completing their trio.
"I've seen him play for a couple of years now. He's got talent and can play both ends of the ice," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "It's often a matter of confidence. His work ethic is exemplary right now. He's getting involved, he's moving his feet, getting on the puck and creating turnovers. It's paying off for him."
Talking things through with Therrien has helped, Eller said, as has speaking with the team's sports psychologist.
"But in the end, it has to come from the player himself," he said. "You can get the guidelines and be pointed in the right direction but in the end you have to do the work yourself."
Carey Price made 17 saves for his second shutout of the season and, with his teammates, has held the Rangers to one goal in two meetings this week. It marked the fourth time in Montreal's (12-4-2) last five games that the opposition has been held below 20 shots.
"We addressed it tonight in our meeting before the game. We have a style to play," said Therrien, whose team is two points ahead of Pittsburgh for first place in the Eastern Conference. "It's a demanding style but we want to be a team that's tough to play against. The guys did a great job again tonight.
"We picked up seven points out of eight (this week) — that's pretty exceptional."
Tortorella not pleased
The Rangers (8-7-2) were shorthanded without injured star winger Rick Nash, as well as forwards Darroll Powe and Arron Asham, and defenceman Michael Del Zotto. The list added at least one more against Montreal when blue-liner Ryan McDonagh left in the second period after being boarded by Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty.
"Can I ask the first question? How high did Pacioretty jump on his hit, can anyone tell me?" Rangers coach John Tortorella asked to open his post-game press conference. "I'm asking you guys. Over/under?"
When a reporter responded with a guess of six inches, Tortorella replied "You're wrong."
The Rangers also lost top defenceman Dan Girardi in the final minute of the third when he went down after blocking a shot from Montreal's P.K. Subban.
Tortorella acknowledged that injuries are part of the game and something his team has to deal with but it's not an excuse for their struggles.
"We've just got to try to gain some confidence, stabilize ourselves when we lose a couple. Coming into the last three games here, we were playing pretty well," he said. "We can't get into a panic mode. We just need to get more minutes consistently out of our players."
After a scoreless first period in which the two teams combined for nine shots total, action picked up in the second.
Cole hit the scoresheet for the first time in 10 games when he picked up his third of the season at 1:20 of the second. A point shot from Montreal defenceman Raphael Diaz went through Eller's skates and found Cole, whose wrist shot it from the left circle inside the far post.
The Canadiens doubled the lead at 13:36 when Galchenyuk drove to the Rangers net and took a shot that deflected upwards off Girardi and landed in the net.
Quick puck movement on a late power play helped set up the Canadiens' third goal. Subban dished from the point to Galchenyuk behind the goal-line and the rookie passed it to Eller, who scored at 19:34 from in the right circle.
Martin Biron, in his third start of the season, stopped 15 shots for New York, which dropped its third straight and has just one win in its last five games.