Montreal Canadiens Mike Komisarek (8) and Andrei Markov (79) jostle with New York Islanders Jeff Tambellini in front of Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak in the first period in Montreal on Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ian Barrett
MONTREAL - The Montreal Canadiens' decision to move forward with two rookies in net is looking better every day.
Jaroslav Halak made 30 saves for his third shutout in his 18th career start as the Canadiens reclaimed first place in the Northeast Division with a 3-0 win Saturday over the reeling New York Islanders.
The shutout was the second in three games for the Habs following a 4-0 win over the New Jersey Devils last Tuesday with fellow rookie Carey Price in net.
Price has received the bulk of the work in goal since Cristobal Huet was traded away at the deadline Feb. 26, but Halak doesn't appear willing to be happy in a backup role.
"Whenever any player puts up a performance like that it definitely forces our hand a bit, and that's what we're looking for, we want internal competition," Montreal head coach Guy Carbonneau said. "At first, because we were playing Carey more we could see (Halak) was frustrated. We could see he wanted to play, that he wanted to show what he could do and he's done that."
Halak improved to 2-0-0 on the season and he has won all eight of his career starts at the Bell Centre.
He's allowed only three goals on 86 shots this year for a save percentage of .965.
He made a big pad save on Richard Park with just under three minutes to play, drawing chants of "Halak, Halak" from the sellout crowd of 21,273, and he received a big hand when he was named the game's first star.
Since the trade of Huet to the Capitals, the Habs rookie tandem of Price and Halak has allowed only 20 goals in 10 games with a combined save percentage of .940 and two shutouts.
"I was shocked when Cristobal got traded, but it was a big challenge and a big opportunity for me," Halak said. "We always win when I play here so whenever I get a chance to play here again, hopefully we can keep the streak alive."
Roman Hamrlik, Alex Kovalev and Guillaume Latendresse scored for the Canadiens (40-24-9), who moved two points ahead of the idle Ottawa Senators in the division standings.
Rick DiPietro made 26 saves for the Islanders (32-34-7), who have lost five in a row and nine of their last 11 games.
The Canadiens swept the season series with the Islanders, outscoring them 18-3 in four games this season.
Montreal remains one point behind New Jersey for the Eastern Conference lead with 89 points, while the Devils also have a game in hand on the Canadiens. The Senators could take back the Northeast Division lead and drop the Canadiens if they beat the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday because that would give them one more win than Montreal.
In an effort to balance out his scoring, Habs head coach Guy Carbonneau shuffled all his forward lines except the trio of Tomas Plekanec, Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn.
He said he liked the impact the changes had on the struggling Chris Higgins, who played with speedy Belarussian rookies Sergei Kostitsyn and Mikhail Grabovski.
Higgins hit a post, fanned on a one-timer with a wide open net and was denied by his good friend DiPietro on a partial break late in the third, but at least he was generating scoring chances which have been rare for him of late.
"He was really involved physically and he was skating," said Carbonneau, who criticized Higgins' play Friday. "Whenever he had a chance to get around the defence and drive the net, that's what he did.
"That's how we want him to play."
Hamrlik opened the scoring for Montreal with his fifth of the year at 7:04 of the second, pouncing on a long DiPietro rebound off a Mark Streit point shot and batting it into a gaping net.
Kovalev scored his 31st of the season at 5:54 of the third, converting a perfect feed from Plekanec on a 2-on-1 break. The goal snapped a season-long two-game pointless streak for Kovalev, something he has done only six other times this year.
"As long as the team gets points, that's all that matters," Kovalev said. "If the team wasn't getting points and I wasn't getting points, then I'd be worried because I wouldn't be helping the team."
Latendresse capped the scoring at 17:48 when he was sent on a partial break by Koivu and put a wrist shot inside the far post for his 16th goal of the season.
Notes: There was a moment of silence prior to the game in honour of former Canadiens defenceman Ken Reardon, who died at the age of 86 earlier Saturday. .. Reardon won the Stanley Cup in 1946 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966. ... Maxim Lapierre, Steve Begin, Mathieu Dandenault and Ryan O'Byrne were scratched for the Canadiens. ... The Canadiens snapped a season-long three-game drought with Hamrlik's power play goal in the second. It was only the third time this year the league's top-ranked power play was shutout for three games. ... Islanders D Brendan Witt and winger Ruslan Fedetenko each missed their second game with sprained knees. C Frans Nielsen missed his eighth game with a shoulder injury, while C Andy Hilbert missed his third game with an ankle injury. D Bruno Gervais, a Montreal-area native, was a healthy scratch for a third straight game.