MONTREAL — The Canadiens are travelling well this season, and that’s good news as they hit the road to play the Minnesota Wild Friday (8 p.m., RDS, TSN Radio 690) and the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday (10 p.m., CBC, RDS, TSN Radio 690).
The Canadiens, who had the day off Wednesday, finished the first month of the season with an 8-5-0 record and are 4-1 on the road after beating the New York Rangers 2-0 with a perfect road game Monday.
The Canadiens also played a pretty good road game Tuesday when they edged the Dallas Stars 2-1, but that effort might not have been appreciated by some Montreal fans because it was played at home.
Then again, it was a win, and the Canadiens have struggled a bit at the Bell Centre. After a successful Western Canada trip, the Canadiens won only two games on a five-game homestand and their overall record at the Bell Centre stands at 4-4-0.
If you want to know the secret to the Canadiens’s success this season, it can be found in the statistics.
The goaltending has been outstanding, but as Carey Price and Peter Budaj will tell you they get a lot of help from their teammates.
The Canadiens have been outshot by an average margin of 32-30 and rank 22nd in the National Hockey League in shots allowed. But the Canadiens are No. 1 in blocking shots, with 243 blocks this season, and three players are among the top 30 in that category. Josh Gorges has blocked 39 shots, second to the New York Islanders’ Andrew MacDonald, who has 42. Andrei Markov ranks ninth with 32 blocked shots and Raphael Diaz is 27th with 25.
“They make our job easier,” said Price, who noted the Canadiens have had more blocked shots than saves in each of their two wins this week.
That’s not to say the goaltenders haven’t been pulling their weight.
Price and Budaj have a combined 1.77 goals-against average, which ranks fourth in the NHL.
After struggling last season, Price has reclaimed a spot among the NHL’s elite and seems to be a certain bet for a berth on Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics. He ranks sixth in save percentage at .939 and has a 2.02 goals-against average.
Budaj, who is hoping to back up Jaroslav Halak for Slovakia at the Olympics, hasn’t played enough games to be included among the NHL leaders, but he has won both of his starts while posting a 0.50 goals-against average and a .982 save percentage.
The Canadiens are in the middle of the pack offensively, but they have averaged a respectable 2.85 goals a game despite missing Max Pacioretty for eight games with a strained hamstring. Pacioretty is skating again and could be back in the lineup next week.
There will probably be one lineup change up front for the Minnesota game with George Parros playing for the first time since suffering a concussion in the season opener. Parros accompanied the team to New York on Monday, but didn’t play. The Canadiens sent a signal that Parros was ready when they returned Patrick Holland to the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs after Tuesday’s game.
With back-to-back games, coach Michel Therrien will use both goaltenders. Look for Budaj to get the call in Colorado. He played six seasons there, from 2005 to 2011, and was the Avalanche’s No. 1 goalie for three of those seasons.
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Canadiens centre David Desharnais, left, and right winger Brian Gionta celebrate with Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price, centre, after beating the Dallas Stars at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Tuesday October 29, 2013.
Photograph by: Allen McInnis, Montreal Gazette