Bounceback – Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer scored twice, Braden Holtby made 35 saves in net and the Capitals’ special teams were nearly perfect in a convincing 5-1 win over the Canadiens in Montreal on Saturday night. The win puts Washington in position to clinch its five Southeast Division title in six seasons with a regulation win over Winnipeg on Tuesday night at Verizon Center.
Washington exhibited resilience in bouncing back from a subpar performance on Thursday in Ottawa in a 3-1 loss to the Senators. With their win over the Habs, the Caps have now gone 38 days without suffering successive setbacks. They are 15-4-1 during that stretch.
“We responded good,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “It wasn’t our best game the other night, and we hadn’t had one [like that] in a while. It was good that we came right back, turned the switch up and we came right back with a good game.”
Two nights after struggling in their five-on-five play, the Caps dominated the Habs in five-on five situations. For the game’s first 40 minutes, most of the Habs’ best chances came on the power play, and they had very little going on at even strength until the game was well out of hand.
“We played well tonight,” says Holtby. “We played a lot better. Obviously, we weren’t happy with our game in Ottawa. Tonight was a bit of a step forward. We were still giving up a little bit too much for what we’d like. We got lucky on numerous occasions with posts and whatnot and just deflections going wide. So it could have been different if the luck was changed, so we’ll work on that. But the offense was firing and it’s a great thing.”
The Capitals jumped on top at 4:49 of the first when Ovechkin netted his 29th of the season, taking a pass from Nicklas Backstrom and threading it through the five-hole of Habs goalie Carey Price from the lower half of the left circle.
Less than a minute later, the Capitals doubled their lead. After an icing call on the Habs, Mike Ribeiro won the offensive zone draw back to Caps blueliner Karl Alzner. Alzner fed Brouwer long the left wall and the Caps’ winger curled to the slot and wristed a shot through traffic that beat Price high to the blocker side.
The Caps nursed that 2-0 lead to the first intermission with a pair of strong penalty-killing missions. Washington owned a 22-20 advantage in shot attempts in the game’s first frame.
Washington kept its foot on the gas in the middle stanza, putting up a crooked number in the second period for the seventh time in the last eight games. Just before the four-minute mark of the second period, Ribeiro and Marcus Johansson combined to do some excellent work along the right wing half-wall in the Montreal zone. Johansson emerged with the puck and fed Brouwer in the slot, and the winger buried a wrister for his second goal of the game and a 3-0 Washington lead.
The Caps finally got their first power play opportunity of the contest at 7:11 of the second when Montreal’s David Desharnais was detected for holding. Some 39 seconds later, the puck was again behind Price. Ribeiro fed Mike Green at center point, Green dished to Ovechkin and the Caps’ captain rifled a perfect pass to Backstrom at the far post. All Backstrom had to do was get a stick on it, and he did. Washington had a power play goal and 4-0 lead.
“Yeah, it was a really nice pass,” says Backstrom. “It was kind of hard to see because I was behind the defenseman there. But a nice little tap-in, I guess. It’s always nice.”
Ovechkin scored a power play goal on a one-timer from his customary left dot spot midway through the third to make it a 5-0 game, Green and Ribeiro assisting.
The Habs broke Holtby’s bid for his fifth shutout of the season when Max Pacioretty scored a token goal at 14:51 of the third to account for the 5-1 final score.
Having watched the conclusion of Winnipeg’s Saturday afternoon game, the Caps knew they’d be in position to clinch on Tuesday if they took care of business in Montreal.
“We knew the New York Islanders beat Winnipeg,” says Ovechkin of the Jets’ afternoon loss, “and it gave us a little pep. We knew right away it doesn’t matter how they’re going to play, just have to win the game. Everybody was focused and everybody was ready for a big game. You could see from the start of the game we dominated them, starting from the goalie, our defense and all of our four lines.”
Eight Straight For Number Eight – Ovechkin has scored 30 goals in each of the last eight seasons. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Ovechkin has tied an NHL record for goals in April with 12 in just 10 games.
Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux established the standard with a dozen goals in just seven games in April of 1993. Winnipeg’s Alexei Zhamnov matched that mark in 1995, scoring 12 goals in 14 games in the last lockout-shortened, 48-game campaign.
With his strong and lengthy surge, Ovechkin has put himself into Hart Trophy consideration, which must be a surprise to voters both locally and nationally. Many of them wrote him off as late as mid-March, some suggesting he should be shifted back to left wing and others hinting at a possible contract buyout in the future.
“It looks good now,” says Oates. ”A month ago I wouldn’t say that everybody was saying he hadn’t lost his touch. But obviously we had faith in him, and we know what he can do. He proves it and we’re going as he’s going. He’s playing great right now and lighting the lamp, which is very important for us.”
Saturday Night Slayer – Holtby is now 10-1-1 lifetime in Saturday games. He has a 1.97 GAA, three of his seven career shutouts and a .934 save pct. in a dozen career starts in Saturday games.
Oh, Canada – Pacioretty’s goal ended a personal shutout streak for Holtby over the Canadiens at Bell Center that stretched over three starts there dating back to March 15, 2011. Until Pacioretty’s goal, Holtby had gone 151 minutes and 23 seconds without being scored against in the Montreal barn.
“Anytime you get to go to Tim Horton’s before a game is a plus,” quips Holtby. “So that’s what I’m going to say is the reason why I play well.”
There may be something to Holtby’s Tim Horton’s-fueled mastery north of the border, something that extends well beyond the Montreal city limits.
During his NHL career, Holtby is now 7-1-0 in eight career starts in Canadian rinks, with his only setback coming on Thursday night in Ottawa. In those eight career starts up north, Holtby has spun a pair of shutouts (both in Winnipeg), and he has fashioned a stingy 0.88 GAA and a .971 save pct.
End Of The Road – Washington concluded its 2012-13 regular season road slate on a strong note with Saturday night’s victory. The Caps finished the season with a respectable 12-10-2 road record, and after starting the season 0-4-1 in their first five games away from Verizon Center, the Caps finished with a flourish on the road. They were 12-6-1 in their final 19 road games, and 8-1-1 in their last 10.
Killing Spree – Washington’s penalty-killing outfit has been perfect in four straight games for the first time this season. The Capitals have killed off all 13 of their shorthanded missions over their last four contests, and they are 16-for-17 (94.1%) on the kill in their last six games.
“It was good,” says Holtby of the Caps’ penalty killing. “That could have changed the game around, too. The penalties were in favor of them at the start of the game for sure.
“We did a good job. That’s something we’ve really been trying to work on. We’re unhappy with where we are in the standings with our PK percentage. We have a lot of guys with a lot of character that take it to heart, and they did a great job tonight.”
Montreal’s power play was ranked fourth in the NHL heading into Saturday’s game.
“They have a skilled power play,” notes Brouwer. “They have a little bit of a different setup where they like to spread you out and work both sides. Not a lot of teams can do that. So tonight, we did a good job. The defensemen were great in front, boxing out and making sure Holts could see a lot of those point shots because they had a few guys that were really bombing away back there.”
Tight Spread – Green led Washington defensemen with 21:39 in ice time and Jack Hillen was sixth among the six Washington blueliners with 17:19 in ice time. The spread of 4:20 among the six Caps defensemen was likely the tightest it has been in any of the team’s 45 games this season.
The Leader Ladder – Ovechkin’s 30 goals lead the NHL. He has three more tallies than Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos. Ovechkin’s 16 power play goals are also tops in the circuit, and he is tied for fourth in the NHL with 53 points, just three points off the league-leading pace set by Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.
Backstrom’s 39 assists are third in the league, two behind Crosby and the Lightning’s Martin St. Louis. Backstrom is tied for 10th in the league in scoring with 46 points.
Ribeiro’s 47 points are tied for eighth in the league, giving the Caps three of the league’s top 10 scorers. Ribeiro and Ovechkin each have 25 power play points this season, tied with Montreal’s P.K. Subban for the league lead in that department.
With 21 wins, Holtby is tied with New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist for fifth in the NHL in wins.
That’s a Match – Brouwer scored 18 goals in 82 games for Washington in 2011-12, his first season with the Capitals. His first-period goal on Saturday was his 18th of this season, and it came in Washington’s 45th game of the campaign and Brouwer’s 44th.
Brouwer went one better, netting his 19th of the season in the second period. His single-season career best is 22 goals in 78 games with the 2009-10 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Brouwer supplied the game-winning goal in Saturday night’s game against the Habs. It’s the fifth time this season he has done so, and that puts him in the team lead, one ahead of Ovechkin. Brouwer has now matched his total of five game-winning goals from last season as well. His single-season career best in that category is seven, also established in 2009-10 with Chicago.
“Every little thing that you can do takes the pressure off the top guys, who we do count on,” says Oates. “Brouw has had a tremendous year. He plays the diamond spot on the power play, which is a very important spot for us. He has scored a lot of goals. He’s changed his game a little bit for us and he’s playing with Mike [Ribeiro] right now. We expect that line to score goals for us.”
Chipping In – Caps defensemen again contributed on the scoresheet, supplying helpers on three of the Washington goals. Washington defensemen have now had a hand in 23 of the team’s last 36 goals.
The Price Ain't Right – The Caps dented Price for two goals on the first three shots he faced, and the beleaguered Montreal netminder was the subject of derisive cheers over much of the rest of the evening.
Price has allowed three or more goals in six of his last eight appearances, and he has posted a 2-6-0 record during that stretch to go along with a 4.19 GAA and an .864 save pct.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears started off the busy final weekend of the regular season with a 2-1 road victory over the Adirondack Phantoms in Glens Falls, N.Y. on Friday. Saturday night found the Bears in Binghamton for a date with the Senators.
Hershey dropped a 3-2 decision to the Baby Sens. The Bears got a first-period power play goal from Casey Wellman (his 16th of the season) and a third period tally from Garret Mitchell (his 15th). Goaltender Philipp Grubauer made 20 saves in a losing effort.
Even with Saturday’s loss, the Bears are in position to clinch a Calder Cup playoff berth simply by winning their final regular season game, a home date against the Manchester Monarchs on Sunday. Manchester clinched its own playoff berth on Saturday.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals opened their second-round Kelly Cup playoff series against the Florida Everblades at Sovereign Center on Friday. The Royals dropped into an 0-1 hole in the series, absorbing a 4-3 opening game setback to the Everblades.
Reading evened the series at 1-1 in Game 2 of the at Sovereign Center on Saturday. The Royals jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first on goals from Kirk MacDonald and Yannick Tifu, but the Everblades halved that advantage with a goal of their own late in the first.
At the 18-second mark of the second period, Tifu scored to regain Reading’s two-goal lead at 3-1. The Everblades got a power play goal late in the third period to pull within a goal but the Royals held on for the victory.
Mark Owuya stopped 15 of the 17 shots he faced to earn the victory in the Reading nets.
The series resumes on Wednesday when the scene shifts to Germain Arena in Florida for Game 3.
By The Numbers – The Caps blocked a total of 56 shots in the two games they palyed in Montreal this season … Ovechkin led the Caps with six shots on net … Brouwer paced the Caps with five hits … John Carlson led the Caps with six blocked shots … Seventeen of the Habs’ 18 skaters had at least one shot on net with only Rene Bourque failing to do so … Ex-Caps center Jeff Halpern won nine of 12 face-offs (75%) on the night for Montreal.