After scuffling their way to just eight goals in a span of seven games during a seven-game slide (0-5-2), the Washington Capitals erupted for four even-strength goals in a span of 8:45 in the second period of Saturday’s game against the Canadiens in Montreal. The Caps rode that offensive outburst to a desperately needed 5-0 win over the Habs in the second game of a five-game road trip.
Caps goalie Braden Holtby stopped all 21 shots he faced to earn his first win since Dec. 7 and his second shutout of the season.
“We needed that,” understates Caps coach Adam Oates. “I was a little worried; we had a good first period and we didn’t get anything out of it. We had some good chances. I’m like, ‘Here we go again.’ But obviously the [first goal] got us going. The second one was a little fluky, but it was our turn to get a break.”
Washington had dug itself a multiple goal hole in each of its four previous games and had not owned a lead since the third period its 4-3 loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Jan. 15.
Montreal entered the game in the midst of a slide of its own, the Canadiens’ first run of three straight regulation losses this season. Both teams were desperately seeking an early spark, and rookie Caps winger Tom Wilson and veteran Habs winger Brandon Prust dropped the gloves and scrapped on their first shift of the game at 1:49 of the first.
The fight came at Prust’s behest, and the Habs got the first chance to benefit when Washington center Jay Beagle was fingered for hooking at 4:44 of the first frame. The Caps snuffed out the ensuing Montreal power play and a small wave of Canadiens’ presence in the Capitals’ end after Beagle exited the box, and from that point on, it was all Washington.
The Caps took their first lead in more than 260 minutes of hockey just as a Washington power play expired early in the second period. Jason Chimera and Joel Ward were right in front of the Habs net, pounding away at the puck. Chimera squeezed off two quick shots, both of which were stopped by Canadiens’ goaltender Carey Price. The puck went off to the side of the net to Price’s right, and Caps captain Alex Ovechkin – playing in his first game back after a two-game absence because of a lower body injury – deftly juggled it with his stick and whacked it through a small space between Price and the post to give Washington all the offense it would need on this night.
“I just told myself, ‘Please, be a rebound on my side,’” recounts Ovechkin. “It was kind of a tough angle, but it’s in and I’ll take it. We had to fight through it and finally it goes on our side.”
Just 79 seconds later, the Caps doubled that lead. After a Montral turnover and a subsequent series of crisp Capitals passes, Martin Erat pushed the puck to John Erskine at center point, and the big blueliner let go a changeup of a shot that floated toward the net, where Caps center Brooks Laich and Habs defenseman P.K. Subban were tangled up in the slot. Laich neatly occupied Subban’s stick so that the defender was unable to make a play on the shot, and the seeing-eye shot drifted through Price’s pads for a 2-0 Washington lead at 3:05 of the second.
More slick passing aided in the creation of the Caps’ third goal of the game, a Beagle marker at 6:21 of the second. Wilson stripped Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher of the puck as the latter attempted to exit the Montreal zone, and he quickly fed Laich, who left it for Mike Green at the right point. Green passed cross-ice to Wilson who went right back to Beagle on the right side of the cage, and the center parked the puck into a yawning cage to make it a 3-0 game.
At 10:31 of the second, the Capitals chased Price to the bench with another goal that extended their lead to 4-0. With the Caps having an extra skated because of a delayed penalty on Prust, Erat carried through neutral ice and passed to Carlson, who gained the zone with speed on the left wing wall. The Caps’ defenseman halted at the half wall, and passed across the ice to Laich, who hit Carlson with a return pass as the blueliner was skating back to his right point position. Carlson turned and floated a wrist shot that eluded Price to make it 4-0.
Peter Budaj came off the bench to take over the Montreal netminding duties at that point. Prust was also done for the night at that point; taking a minor for unsportsmanlike conduct, a 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct, all for arguing the call that led to the delayed penalty.
Carlson’s goal pushed the shots on goal totals in the game to 26-3 in favor of the Capitals. The Caps led 12-3 in that category in the first period, and they fired the first 14 shots on goal in the middle period as well. When the Habs’ Daniel Briere finally lobbed a shot on Holtby at 12:44 of the second period, it was the first save Holtby needed to make in a span of 19:57.
When Briere was finally able to put a shot toward the net after such a lengthy drought, the Bell Centre faithful let loose with a loud and lasting derisive cheer.
“That was probably the biggest cheer I’ve ever gotten for making a save, actually,” quips Holtby.
Washington added one last pretty tally in the third. Caps defenseman Connor Carrick pokechecked a Canadiens forward high in the Washington end, fueling a 2-on-1 rush with Ovechkin carrying into Montreal ice and Casey Wellman riding along on the left side. Ovechkin made a sublime pass across to Wellman, who ripped a one-timer past Budaj to close out the scoring on the night.
Wellman was recalled to Washington from AHL Hershey on Saturday afternoon when it was determined that the lower body injury center Mikhail Grabovski sustained on Friday night in New Jersey would keep him out of the lineup against the Habs.
“I got the word last night and [Hershey] had an away game in Syracuse,” explains Wellman. “So I stayed overnight in Syracuse, caught a flight in the morning to Philadelphia and then transferred to [Montreal]. I got here about 3 o’clock [p.m.] and got ready for the game.
“I felt good. I was pretty happy with the way I played. I made I thought strong plays for the most part, and obviously it’s always good when the team wins.”
Saturday’ performance was probably Washington’s most thorough and most dominating of the season. Montreal outhit the Caps 29-8 in the game, and that disparity was largely due to the fact that the Habs rarely had the puck.
“I think we moved the puck well today,” says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. “That’s a big key to create chances I think. We all worked together and that’s what matters. That’s why we scored.”
In the first 10:31 of the second period, the Capitals squeezed off 21 shot attempts to just one for the Canadiens.
“From top to bottom, everyone had a great game,” notes Beagle. “We came out and played the style of hockey that we wanted to play and that we had talked about in the meetings today. And we played a full 60 minutes, which was huge. You can’t have any lapses. We were going the full 60 and it was just great to get a win like that and get the monkey off our back.”
Fifteen of Washington’s 18 skaters ended the night with a plus next to their name on the scoresheet, and 13 Capitals collected at least one point in the game.
“Big win,” says Ovechkin, “big win for the boys and for Holtsy as well, to get our confidence back. This building is an exciting place to play hockey. It’s good.”
Saturday Night Special – Holtby’s Saturday night excellence continues. With his win over the Habs, he is now 15-4-3 with four shutouts, a 2.18 GAA and a .927 save pct.
Stingy – Saturday’s game marked the third straight game in which Washington limited its foe to two or fewer goals. Holtby has now put together four straight strong outings, two in relief and two as a starter. He is 1-1 during that span, with a 1.51 GAA and a .943 save pct.
Holtby allowed two goals in Tuesday’ 2-0 loss to Ottawa and Michal Neuvirth allowed just two tallies in Friday night’s 2-1 loss at New Jersey.
“They’ve both played good,” says Oates. “Neuvy played good [Friday]; he gave us a chance to win. And Holts played solid tonight.
“He’s no different than any other player. You want to get results. He’s worked hard and he’s been patient. I’m glad to see he got the shutout. Obviously the win is the most important thing. But good for him, he looked very solid in net.”
Climbing The Ladder – Holtby’s shutout was the ninth of his NHL career, moving him into solo possession of fourth place on Washington’s all-time whitewash list. He now trails Olie Kolzig (35), Jim Carey (14) and Don Beaupre (12).
Oh, Canada – Holtby has also been dominant during his career in games played north of the border, particularly those played at Bell Centre. He is now 4-0 with two shutouts, an 0.75 GAA and a .970 save pct. lifetime against the Habs in Montreal.
Holtby has appeared in 13 career games in Canada, all of them starts. He has started in every Canadian building except Vancouver. He is now 10-2-1 with four shutouts, a 1.29 GAA and a .958 save pct. in those 13 starts in his native country.
Book It – The Capitals are now 12-0 in the 12 regular season games in which Erskine has scored a goal since joining the team at the start of the 2006-07 season.
Water in The Desert – Three different Capitals notched their first goals of the 2013-14 season in Saturday night’s game, the team’s 52nd contest of the campaign.
For Erskine, his goal in Saturday’s game was his first since March 7, 2013 – a span of 40 games – when he tallied against the Florida Panthers.
Beagle’s goal was his first since March 22, 2013, a span of 49 games. He last found the range against the Jets in Winnipeg.
Wellman’s goal was his first in more than two years, since Dec. 4, 2011 when he was a member of the Minnesota Wild and he tallied against the Ducks in a game at Anaheim. For Wellman, his goal in Saturday’s game was his first in his last 13 NHL games.
Wellman was called up for a couple of games last season but did not play. He got into one game with Washington last month against the Flyers and acquitted himself well.
“We called him up earlier in the year for the Philly game,” says Oates of Wellman. “His skating ability is huge. [The Canadiens] are a fast team; it’s a fast building. We expected a bit of a track meet and I liked what I saw last time.”
Century City – Saturday marked Oates’ 100th game behind the Washington bench. He has won exactly half of those games and now owns a record of 50-39-11 since taking over the coaching reins.
Alumni Update – Ex-Caps defenseman Steve Eminger signed an AHL deal with the Norfolk Admirals on Friday. The 30-year-old blueliner was Washington’s first choice (first round, 12th overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
Eminger has also played in the NHL with Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Florida, Anaheim and the New York Rangers. He signed with CSKA Moscow of the KHL last summer, and he recorded two assists in 25 games with that club earlier this season.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears finished up a home-and-home set with the Syracuse Crunch on Saturday night when they hosted the Crunch at Giant Center, a night after dealing Syracuse a 4-1 setback in western New York. The Bears stayed hot with a 3-2 win over the Crunch in Saturday’s game.
Hershey scored a goal in each period. Julien Brouillette notched his sixth of the season in the first with help from Ryan Stoa and Tyson Strachan and Michael Latta netted his fifth from Cameron Schilling and Steve Oleksy late in the second. Latta’s goal tied the game going into the third, and the center netted his second of the contest at 12:28 of the final frame, an unassisted strike that proved to be the game-winner.
David Leggio made 17 stops in the Hershey nets to earn the victory. The 21-14-3-3 Bears are now ninth in the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings, one point behind eighth place St. John’s.
Hershey looks for a sweep of a busy three-in-three weekend on Sunday when it hosts the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Giant Center.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals continued on a busy weekend slate of their own when they visited the Toledo Walleye on Saturday night. The Royals made it a clean Saturday night sweep for the Washington organization with a 4-1 road win over the Walleye.
Josh Brittain, Julien Cayer, T.J. Syner and Ryan Cruthers scored to support Brandon Anderson’s 16-save efforts in the Reading nets.
The Royals travel to Kalamazoo on Sunday to finish off a busy weekend of their own, also seeking to sweep three games in as many nights when they take on the K-Wings.
The 23-13-1-0 Royals lead the ECHL’s Atlantic Division by five points over Wheeling.
Both the Bears and the Royals are 8-2 in their last 10 games.
By The Numbers – Ovechkin paced all Washington skaters with 22:41 in ice time, and he also led the Capitals with six shots on net and 10 shot attempts. He also accounted for half (four) of the Capitals’ eight hits on the night … Mike Green and Carrick led the Caps with four blocked shots each.