Washington’s second preseason game of training camp 2017 went a bit better than the first. Two nights after falling 4-1 to the Devils in New Jersey in a penalty-ridden, flow-free game, the Caps prevailed by a 4-2 count over the Canadiens on Wednesday in Montreal. Playing in his first game as a member of the Capitals, Devante Smith-Pelly supplied what would prove to be the game-winning goal late in the third period.
This was another penalty-ridden affair, and it was the Capitals who wound up on the killing end of nine of the 13 minors whistled on the night. That total was down from the 20 minors called in Monday’s game in Newark.
The Caps jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead before the first frame was halfway over, cashing in on each of their first two power play opportunities of the night. Evgeny Kuznetsov took a pass from Madison Bowey on the Washington side of the sheet, and the silky center skated right up the middle of the ice and tucked a shot under Habs goalie Carey Price at 5:07.
“I just skated and tried to pass to somebody,” recounts Kuznetsov. “This time, nobody was open, and I kind of had a half breakaway.”
Minutes later, the Caps doubled that advantage with another extra-man tally off the rush. Kuznetsov skated the puck into Montreal ice and dished to Vrana on his right. Vrana tried to issue a return feed, but the puck took a fortuitous bounce off a defender’s stick and went just under the crossbar for a 2-0 Washington lead at 9:52.
“That was actually a pass,” admits Vrana. “I saw Kuzy skating to the net, and so I tried to hit him there at the back door. I think it was deflected into the net. You get goals like this, and sometimes you miss the net. That’s the hockey gods, you know.”
Before the first ended, the Caps encountered penalty trouble of their own. They were tagged with three minors in less than five minutes late in the frame, and although they managed to take that 2-0 lead to the room for the first intermission, they were two men down when the second period got underway.
Washington managed to kill off the front end of the three-on-five disadvantage, but Canadiens rookie Charles Hudon scored a power-play goal on the back end of that kill, halving Washington’s lead to 2-1 at 1:16 of the second.
Just past the midpoint of the middle stanza, the Canadiens pulled even on a pretty tic-tac-toe play. Seconds after firing a rocket of a shot off the crossbar, Jonathan Drouin started the play, feeding Ales Hemsky. Max Pacioretty supplied the finish, beating Caps goalie Pheonix Copley – who just entered the game – from the right circle.
For the second time in as many periods, the Caps ended the middle frame on the wrong end of a five-on-three. This time, Washington was able to successfully navigate its way through the two-man disadvantage, the fourth one it has faced in two preseason games. The Caps needed some brilliance from Copley in the waning seconds of the period to keep the game even.
Most of the third was played at even strength, but the Caps still spent most of the period in their end of the ice. Montreal owned a 22-11 lead in third period shot attempts, but the Caps managed to withstand the heat.
After a lengthy shift in their own end late in the frame, the Caps finally exited, and then they dumped the puck deep into the Montreal zone, But rather than head to the bench along with his linemates after a long shift in their own zone, Smith-Pelly went into the left wing corner after the puck. A trio of Canadiens quickly joined him, yet the Washington winger was able to occupy the opposition and the puck until a fresh set of troops arrived to help out.
Brett Connolly got the puck out to Conner Hobbs at center point, and the rookie blueliner wound up and fired. Smith-Pelly got a piece of it, the disc popped into the air, and it fell behind Montreal netminder Charlie Lindgren, wobbling just over the goal line and not quite to the back of the net at 14:06.
“That’s something you talk about early in your hockey career,” says Smith-Pelly. “The other two guys are changing, and you just dump it in. I just tried to hold it, and the other guys came and helped. By then, I was gassed. I just tried to go to the net, and it hit me and went in.”
The goal culminated a 75-second shift for Smith-Pelly.
Washington sealed the deal by killing off one last late penalty and getting an empty-netter from Tom Wilson with 68 seconds left.
The Caps now head home to host their next three exhibition games, Friday against the St. Louis Blues, Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes and Wednesday against the Devils.