The Canadiens and Carey Price bounced back from consecutive home ice losses to defeat the Washington Capitals 2-1 on Saturday night at the Verizon Centre. This was a special win for Price as it is his 250th win, which places him in the company of Habs goaltending greats Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden, and Patrick Roy. The victory was led by a strong first period performance by Carey Price which kept the Capitals off the scoresheet during some relentless pressure by Washington at the outset of the game, followed by a sound team defensive effort, particularly in the third period.
The Canadiens visited the Capitals in the midst of controversy. The prior night and for the first time since 2014, Carey Price was pulled. However, the real news was St. Carey’s glare at Coach Michel Therrien as he skated off the ice late in the second period. Therrien later insisted he has no problem with Price being upset at being pulled (wisely surmising that a feud with the world’s best goaltender may end differently than his spat with a certain elite defenceman). But the glare featured prominently among the talking heads in the Saturday evening pre-game shows in any event.
Al Montoya was scheduled to play this night but as consolation for playing less than two periods the night before, Price started in goal. Washington started Braden Holtby, Price’s World Cup mate on Team Canada. Hotlby is 8-0-2 against the Habs. Price is 28-1-1 with a .950 save percentage on Saturday starts since 2014. Something had to give this night and it was not Carey Price.
In the opening period, the Capitals-who had won their last six games and are starting to perform like the Presidents’ Trophy team of a year ago- totally outskated and outhustled the Habs. On a few plays, the Canadien defenders looked flat-footed and surrendered outstanding opportunities only to be bailed out by Price. Mark Barberio was by no means the only victim but on a few plays the Washington forwards blew by him and came in on Price untouched and unhindered. Along with Price’s heroics, while Washington applied this pressure, the Capitals did on a number of occasions fail to convert their scoring chances into actual shots on net. Their scoring chances and shot attempts were frequently off target early in the game and that helped the Canadiens survive the onslaught. The Capitals should have had a lead after the first 10-12 minutes but the game remained scoreless.
Around the 12 minute mark, Daniel Carr was flattened in the neutral zone. Michael McCarron took exception and unwisely slashed Washington’s Tom Wilson. The result was a two minute penalty. The Canadiens actually looked better on the penalty kill than they had at even strength and this helped turn the momentum in Montreal’s favour.
After the penalty kill, the Radulov-Danault-Pacioretty line had a quality even-strength shift, where they held the play in the Capitals’ end and generated some shots. On the ensuing shift, Artturi Lekhonen rung the puck off the post on a rush down the left side. Shortly afterwards, Lekhonen beat Matt Niskanen to the puck off a face-off and opened the scoring, converting a wrap-around move that caromed off the heel of Holtby’s stick.
After the Lekhonen goal, the Canadiens did sustain some further pressure and Phillip Danault very nearly extended the lead on a goal mouth scramble. Washington did respond with some scoring chances before the end of the period but they were turned away by Price. At the end of period one, the Canadiens lead 1-0.
Despite an early penalty to Torrey Mitchell in period two, the play was fairly even territorially with the best opportunity being a failed tap-in by Evgeny Kuznetsov off a hard cross-ice pass. Justin Williams was later called for a penalty and the Habs would have been wise to decline the penalty. The ensuing power play was awful, generating nothing in the way of shots or sustained pressure. The puck movement was terrible, culminating in a giveaway by Andrei Markov that very nearly sent the Capitals off on an odd-man rush. The only scoring chance of the power play was by former Canadien Lars Eller who had a point blank scoring chance that was turned away by Carey Price.
After the Canadiens power play, the Capitals seized the momentum and hemmed the Habs in their own zone. Eventually, Nathan Beaulieu took a hooking penalty. That was followed 30 seconds later by an interference penalty by Alexei Emelin, which handed the Capitals a long 5-3 man advantage. Nine seconds of play later, Nicklas Backstrom converted a smooth cross-ice seam pass from Justin Williams that was made possible by ex-London Knight John Carlson’s impressive work along the boards, which thwarted a clearing attempt by Andrei Markov.
After the goal, Beaulieu exited the penalty and expressed his opinion of the officials’ performance, earning him a 10-minute misconduct in the process. The residual power play was killed off but only after the Canadiens survived some sustained pressure, which was accomplished through some timely saves and a key block by Shea Weber that landed him in the dressing room for repairs for the rest of the second period. Weber was however able to play the third period.
Not long after Montreal’s penalty expired, Max Pacioretty led a rush down the left side dropping the puck to Danault. Danault then passed back to Pacioretty who had created some open space along the boards. Pacioretty then feathered a smooth cross-ice pass to a streaking Jeff Petry who tipped or directed the puck by Holtby, restoring the Canadiens one-goal lead in the process.
Washington’s Dmitry Orlov took a penalty late in the period and while the Habs power play was better than their first of the night, there was no sustained pressure or no quality chances arose. At this point, Weber was still in for repairs so he was not available.
Although there was no scoring, the third period was the Canadiens best period of the game. This was impressive, considering their injury situation and that they had played the night before, as did Washington. While defending their one-goal lead, the Habs took the play to Washington for much of the period, holding the Capitals to very few shots in the first 15 minutes of the third. Most of the play in the third was in the Capitals end or the neutral zone. However, in the last five minutes, Washington’s defencemen started to pinch and their skaters gambled much more in an effort to get the equalizer. The Capitals very nearly succeeded, hitting two goal posts late in the game. They also surrendered some scoring chances the other way, including a careless cross-ice pass in their own end that Torrey Mitchell intercepted and narrowly missed converting after he broke in alone on Holtby. Hotlby skated to the bench for the extra attacker with two minutes left. Washington did apply some pressure on the Canadiens but they weathered the storm for an impressive road win that ended Washington’s win streak at six.
NOTE: Business for the Canadiens medical staff continued to be brisk. In addition to tending to Weber in period two, Markov left the game in the third period with a lower body injury and did not return. There were no updates on his status after the game.
HW Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Artturi Lekhonen – With the injury bug arriving the last few weeks, secondary scoring is a must and the Canadiens rookie Lekhonen is providing just that, opening the scoring in the first period that was for the most part dominated by the Capitals. Lekhonen also rang one off the post and was generating chances and skating well all night.
Stats: 1G; +/-: +1; TOI: 13:18; SOG: 2
2nd Star – Jeff Petry – Petry has also been supplying some secondary scoring at an opportune time, scoring twice this weekend and registering the winner on this night by converting a smooth cross-ice pass from Pacioretty. Petry also moved the puck well and logged extra ice time while Weber was being examined in period two.
Stats: 1G; +/-: +1; TOI: 23:24; SOG: 6
3rd Star – Carey Price – Carey stood tall early in the game when the Capitals were at their best. Without some key saves in the first ten minutes of the game, this night would have had a much different outcome. Price also becomes the fourth member of an elite Canadiens goaltending club with 250 wins. Another outstanding achievement by the Canadiens superstar netminder.
Stats: 20 saves on 21 shots, 1.00 GAA, .955 SV%
Honourable Mention: Max Pacioretty – His highlight of the night was his pass to Petry for the winner. Max won his share of the puck battles tonight and the Danault-Radulov-Pacioretty line did generate some scoring chances.
Stats: 1A; +/-: +1; TOI: 18:22; SOG: 0