While it will never go down as a classic in any sense, the fact that the Montreal Canadiens won their second in a row makes for a good enough feeling amongst players, management and fans that no one will talk about lack of quality. This afternoon, the Washington Capitals just couldn’t generate much of anything and the Habs offense, led by rookie extraordinaire Michael Ryder, made the victory an easy one with a victory of 4-1 in front of 19 727 enthusiastic afternoon supporters.
From an opening shift domination from Joe Juneau, Andreas Dackell and Chad Kilger, inserted for the injured Niklas Sundstrom, where the puck never left the Cap zone, the Canadiens carried the play for the bulk of the game. Uber-star Jaromir Jagr couldn’t get any sustained pressure going, and with key injuries to Peter Bondra and Dainius Zubrus, the Capitals were left virtually punchless.
Midway through the first Ryder opened the scoring with a precise shot off the near post after taking the puck on a faceoff win by Saku Koivu and then threading through two of the Cap defenders. It was his eighth tally of the year and temporarily tied him with Trent Hunter of the New York Islanders atop the rookie scoring table.
Less than four minutes later as Pierre Dagenais was stepping from the box after serving two minutes of Sheldon Souray’s four-minute double minor, the Capitals Joel Kwiatkowski lasered a shot from the point through traffic to even up the score at one.
Sniper Souray gave Montreal the lead for good with another rocket launcher from the point on the power play. It was a brilliant five-man effort where every man made numerous strong plays to keep the puck in, keep the pressure on, and give multiple opportunities to score. Claude Julien’s brainwave to put Koivu on the point in recent weeks has allowed the man advantage to work with two superior passing players, Mike Ribeiro being the other, to work together to set up the shooting forwards. Since that time the Hab power play has gone from obscurity to flirting with the top ten in the league.
To emphasize how well the special teams are playing, Juneau took a blocked shot by Jason Ward and skated from his own blueline to slide a puck between Maxime Ouellet’s pads early in the second while short handed. Once again the Habs were perfect in that department, killing off all four disadvantage attempts.
At 10:32 of the third, Ryder put an exclamation mark on his three-point day when he intercepted a clearance at the Capital blueline, snuck by one defender, deked out another, then fired a seeing-eye shot top shelf to score his second of the night. The goal puts him atop the rookie scoring table for the moment.
Not to be left out on the accolades of the day, Jose Theodore had another strong performance turning away 19 of the 20 shots he faced, including six from Jagr. Julien ended the game with a classy, and confidence-building, gesture as he sent out both Tomas Plekanec and Darren Langdon for shifts in the final minute. Both had played hard, if not for extended periods, and the pat on the back they received was strong reward for efforts given.
Notes: Kilger, despite having passed through waivers, was pulled up to play because of injuries to Yannick Perreault and Sundstrom and had his best game in ages; too little too late…In 21+ minutes of work, Francis Bouillon was a plus three on the evening…Juneau has four points, including two goals, in his last three games.