MONTREAL (AP)Nikolaj Ehlers led the way as Winnipeg spoiled Ilya Kovalchuk’s first game with Montreal.
Ehlers had a goal and an assist, and the Jets held off the struggling Canadiens for a 3-2 victory on Monday night.
Andrew Copp and Josh Morrissey also scored for Winnipeg, which had dropped five of six. Captain Blake Wheeler had two assists, and Connor Hellebuyck made 29 saves.
The 36-year-old Kovalchuk picked up an assist in his Canadiens debut. He agreed to a one-year, two-way contract on Friday.
”I was a little nervous and it took me a few shifts to get into the rhythm because I didn’t play for two months,” Kovalchuk said. ”When the people trust me, then you want to give everything.
”It’s just the beginning. I have to work hard to get better. We lost the game, so nobody can be pleased. It can be better.”
Kovalchuk had three goals and six assists in 17 games with Los Angeles before the Kings placed him on waivers last month. His previous game was on Nov. 9 against his new team at the Bell Centre.
Defenseman Ben Chiarot scored twice for Montreal, which has lost six in a row. Carey Price stopped 24 shots.
The Canadiens were down 2-1 when Copp scored his sixth of the season 10:16 into the third period. Copp stole the puck from Cale Fleury at Winnipeg’s blue line, skated the length of the ice and beat Price on a breakaway.
Chiarot responded for Montreal, trimming Winnipeg’s lead to 3-2 when he sent a wrist shot past Hellebuyck on his blocker side with 8:13 left. But the Jets held on, improving to 3-5-2 in their last 10 games.
Kovalchuk skated on Montreal’s top line, replacing the injured Brendan Gallagher (concussion), and on the top power-play unit. Fans cheered loudly when the Russian stepped onto the ice for his first shift.
Kovalchuk dished out a big hit on Luca Sbisa in the corner of the ice in the second, prompting ”Kovy” chants from the crowd.
”It gave me little goose bumps,” he said. ”I appreciated it.”
After a scoreless first period, Winnipeg took a 2-0 lead five minutes into the second.
Morrissey got his fourth at 1:32 with a wrist shot from the blue line into heavy traffic. The Jets then added a short-handed goal. A mishandled puck by Tomas Tatar in the neutral zone created a 2-on-0 breakaway for Wheeler and Ehlers, who exchanged passes before beating Price.
It was the third short-handed goal allowed by the Canadiens this year.
”I was surprised it was a 2-on-0,” Wheeler said. ”Great play by him (Ehlers) to strip the puck. When I saw we were off to the races, I was just trying to suck Price over to give him a little room to put it up.”
Added Ehlers: ”That one felt good.”
Down 2-0, Montreal pressed for a goal and was rewarded when Chiarot’s slap shot from outside the face-off circle flew past Hellebuyck at 11:03 for his career-high seventh goal this season.
NOTES: Jets D Sami Niku played his first game since Oct. 8. … Price is 10-4-1 all-time against the Jets. … Montreal defeated Winnipeg 6-2 on Dec. 23.
Jets: Visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.
Canadiens: Visit the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night.
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