The Habs were facing a tough test on Friday night as they rolled into Capital One Arena to take on the league-leading Washington Capitals. Montreal had a dominating performance, scoring four goals in the second period. The Canadiens fought off a late push and left Washington with a very impressive 5-2 win.
Jordan Weal drew back into the lineup for the first time since November 2nd in Dallas. Ben Chiarot was moved back up to the top pairing to play with Shea Weber which resulted in Victor Mete coming down to play with Petry. Carey Price was given the start in goal for the first half of the back-to-back set.
Both teams came ready to play right from the start. No more than two minutes in, Price made two big point-blank saves on Alex Ovechkin, including a two on one break. The Habs came back the other way with a dangerous chance of their own. Nick Suzuki won a puck battle behind the net and set up a wide-open Brett Kulak, but Ilya Samsonov slid across and got it with his blocker.
The Habs got lucky later on in the period when a heavy wrist shot by Evgeny Kuznetsov hit the crossbar and went out. The Habs then went the other way. Joel Armia sent the puck towards the net, and Max Domi was driving to it. Samsonov hit Domi with his clearing attempt and it almost bounced in. A scramble ensued in front of the net, but the Habs couldn’t find the puck. On the next shift, Suzuki sent a cross-ice pass to Artturi Lehkonen, who tipped the puck just wide.
The Habs almost caught a lucky break late in the period when Chiarot’s shot bounced off the end boards, then off the heel of Samsonov, but it hit the post and stayed out. In the dying seconds of the period, the Canadiens came close again when Armia had two wacks at the puck off a wraparound. The buzzer sounded with the Habs still applying pressure. The teams went into the intermission with a scoreless tie, but the Capitals were very lucky that this was not a Habs lead. Montreal put tremendous pressure on Washington almost all period but could not finish off their chances.
There was a tough moment early in the second period when Jonathan Drouin took a hard, high hit from Ovechkin. Drouin was shaken up and had to go to the dressing room.
The Habs came close to opening the scoring shortly after when Lehkonen carried the puck into the zone and found Tomas Tatar out front, but he put it a little too high. On the next shift, the fourth line found themselves on a three on one rush. Cousins made a nice toe drag and was face to face with the goalie, but Samsonov was able to keep the puck out of the net.
Montreal finally drew first blood six minutes into the period. Tatar completed a very strong battle along the boards and the puck squirted free to Brendan Gallagher. He then found Phillip Danault all alone in front. Danault made a move to his backhand and roofed the first goal of the game.
Montreal wasted no time extending their lead. As shortly after, Danault had the puck behind the net and sent it out to Chiarot. Chiarot teed up Weber, and Weber sent an absolute BOMB over the shoulder of Samsonov for the 2-0 lead.
The Habs didn’t stop there. This time it was Weal. He picked up the puck and went around the net, then did a skate around the whole offensive zone before sniping a backhand off the post and in. This highlight-reel goal gave the Habs a comfortable three-goal lead.
With seven minutes to go in the second, Weber was tripped behind his own net, giving the Habs the game’s first power play. The Habs were unable to convert. However, just as it expired, Suzuki was trying to find Gallagher out front. The pass was right on Gallagher’s stick, but it went off Jonas Siegenthaler’s stick and into the net.
The Habs continued to dominate the puck for the rest of the period. There was a bit of a push back by Washington in the last minute but the Canadiens weathered the storm to keep their 4-0 lead going to intermission.
The Habs got some great news to start the third period as Drouin was back on the ice. Montreal continued to dominate the possession and keep Washington pinned in their own zone.
Petry was called for an early penalty when he was called for interference on T.J. Oshie in front of the net. Nate Thompson had a nice chance shorthanded but was turned aside by Samsonov. Late in the advantage, the Capitals were able to cut into the Habs’ lead when John Carlson set up Ovechkin for his lethal one timer.
Midway through the period, Montreal missed a golden chance to regain their four-goal lead. Armia passed it to Paul Byron, who was alone in front. Instead of shooting, Byron gave it back to Armia. Siegenthaler managed to drop down in the crease and stop a sure goal to keep the Caps within three.
With minutes to go in the game, Mete tried to get too fancy at the offensive blueline. It did not go well, and Kuznetsov was sent the other way for a breakaway. He made a move to the forehand and put it over a sprawling Price to cut the Habs’ lead down to two.
Washington started to press hard in the offensive zone to try and get within one. After a bit of a scrap in front of the Habs net, the faceoff was brought outside. Thompson won the draw, and Chiarot’s clearing attempt hit Tatar who then corralled the puck and fired it into the empty net.
The final buzzer rang, and the Canadiens were victorious 5-2. This was a very impressive win for Montreal and one that should put the Canadiens on notice as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
HabsWorld Habs’ Three Stars
First Star – Tomas Tatar
This was a huge offensive night for Tatar as he scored four points to take over as the Habs’ leading scorer. With Drouin’s injury, he was promoted back to the top line, and he did not look back. It all started with a great forecheck that led to Montreal’s first goal of the game. He then capped off the great night with the empty netter to seal the deal.
Stats: 1G, 3A, +3, 2 SOG, 13:47 TOI
Second Star – Phillip Danault
Danault had a very good night for himself as well, recording three points. He made a nice move to give Montreal the first goal of the game. He then made a great play behind the net that led to the second goal. Danault also continued to play like an elite shutdown centreman, as Ovechkin’s line was quiet all night, other than the power play goal.
Stats: 1G, 2A, +3, 2 SOG, 19:29 TOI
Third Star – Nick Suzuki
Suzuki looked very good at centre again as he set up several plays that his linemates could not quite convert on. He added a goal for himself as well. The coaching staff will have a very tough decision when Jesperi Kotkaniemi gets back, as Suzuki is making it very hard to remove him from the middle of the ice.
Stats: 1G, +1, 14:02 TOI
Honourable Mention – Everyone Else
Before tonight’s game, Washington only had two regulation losses and had not lost in regulation since October 14th. What the Habs did was very impressive, and everyone contributed to it. Not only did the Habs beat the Caps in regulation, they dominated virtually all night. This was Montreal’s best performance of the season, and everybody deserves credit for this great team win.