A handful of first-period mistakes proved to be too much for the Washington Capitals to overcome on Friday night as they absorbed a 3-2 setback at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens.
Coming in fresh off an ugly 4-0 home ice loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, the Caps did themselves no favors in the first. Washington dug itself an early 3-0 ditch.
“Yeah, we got down obviously by three,” laments Caps right wing Joel Ward. “I don’t know what to say, really. They got up three and it’s tough to climb back.”
Just before the nine-minute mark of the first, Alexander Urbom’s breakout pass to Mikhail Grabovski glanced off the center’s stick and went to Habs pivot Ryan White, who bumped it to linemate Michael Bournival. Bournival fed Travis Moen, and shot a wrister from the left circle that should have probably been a routine save for Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth. Instead, the puck glanced off Neuvirth’s glove and into the net for a 1-0 Montreal lead at 8:53 of the first.
“At that point, there’s a lot of hockey left,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich. “It was a tough one. It was a little play up the middle that rolls off Grabo’s stick, and they end up getting a shot and it ends up going in. But at that point there’s a lot of hockey left, and that can’t deter us at all.”
Exactly three minutes later, the Habs doubled their lead. Montreal pivot David Desharnais bested Nicklas Backstrom on a draw in the Washington end immediately following a television timeout. The Canadiens worked the puck back to the blueline, where Josh Gorges flung a shot from center point toward the net. Desharnais went to the front of the net without much resistance, and, with his stick parallel to the ice, he deflected the puck past Neuvirth. After a brief video review to determine whether the Habs’ center’s stick was too high, the goal was upheld and Montreal owned a 2-0 lead.
“It’s a faceoff goal on a shot from the point that we talk about every single day,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “And we made mistakes on coverage. You make mistakes in the league, you get burned. There is no other way to cut it.”
A mere 20 seconds after the Desharnais goal, Caps forward Martin Erat was assessed a phantom roughing call in the offensive zone. That put the Habs’ potent power play on the ice, and they cashed in. Gorges threaded the puck toward Daniel Briere in the slot, and it bounced off Urbom’s skate and right to Briere’s tape. The veteran Caps killer tucked it into an empty net to make it a 3-0 game at 13:40 of the first period.
Asked about the penalty call after the game, Erat shook his head.
“I have no idea,” sighs Erat. “I have no idea. I don’t know what to say.”
Less than a minute after the Briere goal, the Caps shot another bullet into their collective foot when defenseman John Carlson incurred a hi-sticking minor in the offensive zone.
On the ensuing power play, the Capitals were able to dodge a bullet when Montreal defenseman Raphael Diaz sailed his shot – at a wide open Washington net – just wide.
Later in the same minor penalty, Caps winger Jason Chimera jolted off on a breakaway down the right wing side. As he cut to the middle, Habs goalie Peter Budaj tripped him while Canadiens forward Brian Gionta simultaneously hacked his hands. The result was a single minor penalty to Budaj.
With less than a minute remaining in the first and the Caps on another power play courtesy of an Alexei Emelin cross-checking call, they were able to cut into the Montreal lead. Alex Ovechkin fired a shot from a tough angle down low on the left side and it beat Budaj to make it a 3-1 game.
After teeing up 25 shots in the first frame, the Caps were able to muster only 15 shot bids in the middle frame. And only three of those made it on goal while nine of them missed the net.
Aaron Volpatti and Nicklas Backstrom were both stopped on breakaway chances in the first six minutes of the second, and it was nearly another six minutes before Marcus Johansson notched the Caps’ third and final shot of the period at the 12:12 mark.
Over the final 7:48 of the period, Montreal attempted 12 shots and got 11 on net while the Caps attempted just three, missing the target on all of them. Neuvirth was solid, keeping the deficit at two heading into the final stanza.
The Capitals cut into their comeback time by taking two minor penalties in the first half of the third period: Backstrom for hooking at 5:34 and Ovechkin for roughing at 8:27. Midway through the Ovechkin minor, Budaj stopped Ward on a breakaway attempt, and then thwarted Chimera’s follow-up bid on the rebound.
Washington finally broke through for another tally exactly two minutes after Ovechkin exited the penalty box. The Caps’ captain was on the ice with Grabovski and Marcus Johansson, and each member of the trio had been out for well over a minute, with Ovechkin having been on for the full two minutes since being sprung from the box.
Seconds after Ovechkin drilled Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban with a hard, open ice hit, Caps defenseman John Carlson barreled onto the ice and into the zone and drove a hard, low shot at the net. Ovechkin was parked at the top of the paint, and he managed to deflect the puck past Budaj to make it a 3-2 game with 7:33 remaining.
The Caps were never able to get the equalizer.
Washington did not have any power play time after Ovechkin’s extra-man tally late in the first, and the Caps had two extra-man opportunities to five for the Habs on the night.
“I don’t know what to say about it,” says Erat of the team’s tendency to take penalties. “It’s just killing everything. You go and you go and you go, and you finally get some push and you take a penalty. If it’s [a penalty] or not, it’s just bad for the moment.”
The Caps’ total of 101 minor penalties is third most in the NHL, as is Washington’s total of 92 times shorthanded.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” rues Oates. “We had too many penalties again. That’s four games in a row. Ovi gets [a roughing], that’s uncharacteristic. You can’t get under their skin when it’s a 3-1 game. He knows better than that. We did things like that. Yeah, we made a great push at the end. In 40 minutes we used a lot of energy that we probably need [Saturday]. That’s the frustrating part.
“All we did to make the push was to play correct. We talk about it every single day. When you go on a losing streak or you’re losing games, you always end up saying the same thing. [Saturday] morning in the video, I will show the same stuff. I know it. A lot of guys have leashes and we have young kids, and there are times when it is obviously frustrating and you’ve got to fight through it and there are times I try to.”
Leaderboard – Ovechkin vaulted into the lead for goals in the NHL with 19. He also leads the league with eight power play goals. Friday’s game was his fifth multiple-goal game of the season and the 81st of his NHL career.
Since returning from a two-game absence at the beginning of November because of an upper body injury, Ovechkin has nine goals in nine games.
Dating back to last season, Ovechkin has 42 goals and 62 points in his last 44 regular season games. With 26 points this season, Ovechkin is tied for second in the NHL’s scoring chase, four points behind Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.
Hot Hands – Carlson had the primary assists on both Ovechkin goals, and he now has five goals and nine points in his last 10 games.
Looking For A Spark – With Montreal up 1-0 early in the first, Caps winger Troy Brouwer laid a clean hit on Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov. Subban took exception to the bodycheck, and challenged Brouwer to a bout.
“I just came in and I finished my check like I’m supposed to,” notes Brouwer. “And [Subban] wasn’t happy with it. It’s a good hockey play all around.”
With the Caps in a bit of an early hole, it was a beneficial time for Brouwer to get into his first fight of the season.
“Anytime you can generate a spark for your team and try to get one of their best players off the ice, it’s a good situation,” he says.
Three Or More – Washington has allowed three or more goals in six of its last seven games, going 3-3-1 during that span. Prior to that stretch, the Capitals had allowed two or fewer tallies in eight of their previous 11 contests, going 8-3 during that run.
Thirteen – Brouwer’s fight was Washington’s 13th of the season, placing the Capitals 13th in the league in that department. Seven different Capitals have collected fighting majors this season, with rookie Tom Wilson leading the way with five.
Thirty – Washington surrendered 31 shots on goal for the game, marking the 17th time in the team’s last 18 games and the 20th time in 23 games this season that the Caps have permitted 30 or more shots on net.
Five-On-Three – The Capitals had a very brief 5-on-3 power play of just 13 seconds in length late in the first period. The Caps were able to pull the trigger on just one shot attempt, but Gorges was able to block an Ovechkin slapper to prevent the Caps from netting their first goal on a two-man advantage since Jan. 25.
Washington is now without a goal in a dozen straight two-man advantage opportunities totaling 13:03 in length.
Firsts – Budaj’s win was the first of his career against Washington. He is now 1-2-1 lifetime against the Capitals.
Both Moen and Desharnais netted their first goals of the season in Friday’s game.
Down On The Farm – The ECHL Reading Royals were on the road on Friday night, taking on the Fort Wayne Komets. Reading prevailed, 4-2.
Ethan Cox and Yannick Tifu scored single tallies while Aaron Gens netted a pair for the defending Kelly Cup champions. Brandon Anderson made 25 saves to earn the victory in goal for the Royals.
Winners of three straight, the 9-4 Royals are atop the ECHL’s Atlantic Division.
Reading visits Cincinnati on Saturday.
By The Numbers – Carlson led the Caps with 24:52 in ice time … Ovechkin teed up a team-high 12 shots, getting a team-high five on goal … Brouwer led the Caps with six hits … Backstrom won 14 of 21 (67%) face-offs on the night.