MONTREAL -- Slow starts have plagued the Montreal Canadiens recently, and put their playoff hopes in peril.
Ryan Garbutt scored his first NHL goal and Kari Lehtonen made 31 saves as the Dallas Stars blanked the Canadiens 3-0 on Tuesday night.
"We're looking for a lot of energy to start the game, and keep things real simple and throw a lot of pucks at the net," Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth said. "We went for the longest time without a shot and you can't be playing that way at that time, to get things started."
Mike Ribeiro, in his regular-season return to Montreal, and Tom Wandell also scored for the Stars (30-26-4).
The Stars took control in the first period, outshooting the Canadiens 15-6. The shots were 9-0 in favor of Dallas before Montreal recorded its first at 8:14.
"Dallas was better than us, plain and simple, all the way through," Canadiens center Lars Eller said. "I can't stand here and make a deeper analysis than that because that's how simple it is."
For a fifth straight game, the Canadiens allowed their opponent to strike first when Garbutt, just called up from the minors, snapped a shot from the circle over crouched goalie Carey Price.
The Canadiens, seven points behind eighth-place Toronto and the postseason cutoff in the Eastern Conference, had many chances to tie the game in the second period when Dallas was whistled for four consecutive penalties. Montreal had scored seven goals in its previous 25 power-play chances, but the Canadiens failed to net a man-advantage tally for just the second time in seven games.
"We fell short," Cunneyworth said. "We get that next one, tie it up, it gives us life. But we couldn't do that. We were reluctant at times to shoot it. That's what a power play has to do. We had plenty of opportunity, but we just couldn't pull it together to accomplish that."
Ribeiro, traded to Dallas for defenseman Janne Niinimaa on Sept. 30, 2006, put the Stars ahead 2-0 at 4:32 of the third. Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley found the former Canadiens forward with a cross-crease pass to the left of Price.
Ribeiro had suited up for a preseason game in Montreal this season but missed the Stars' only regular-season visit there in January 2010 because of injury.
He was booed on his goal but was cheered when he was named the game's first star and offered a Jaromir Jagr-like salute to the crowd in recognition.
"I appreciated the applause and had a little fun with it," Ribeiro said. "When you win, it's always fun, especially in Montreal and it was pretty incredible."
Michael Ryder, another former Canadiens player, was happy to see Ribeiro have an impact in his long-awaited return.
"He was feeling it tonight, that's for sure. First time he's been back here in a long time, and he was pretty pumped to play," Ryder said. "It was good to see him get that goal. It was a huge win for us."
Price stopped 33 shots for the Canadiens (24-27-10), who have dropped four of their last five after a four-game winning streak.
"If could point out one or two things, we could fix it. But it's not one player, one thing or the power play - it's a lot of things," Eller said. "That's not good enough. It's everybody, every time, every shift. We play like this, we're not even close to winning."
Price stopped 33 shots for the Canadiens (24-27-10), who have lost four of five after a four-game winning streak.
"If we could point out one or two things, we could fix it. But it's not one player, one thing or the power play - it's a lot of things," Eller said. "That's not good enough. It's everybody, every time, every shift. We play like this, we're not even close to winning."
NOTES: Canadiens C Tomas Plekanec missed the game because of the flu. Rookie Louis Leblanc returned after missing one game because of illness. ... The Stars scratched forwards Jamie Benn (lower body) and Adam Burish, and D Sheldon Souray (lower body). ... Canadiens D Chris Campoli's penalty midway through the third period snapped a streak of 5 1/2 periods without an infraction against Montreal. ... The Stars haven't lost in regulation when leading after two periods since October 31, 2009 (59-0-6).