Saturday was the second half of a back-to-back for the Habs, having lost to the Islanders 3-0 the previous night. This time Samuel Montembeault was back in net, Carey Price having taken the first half of the set.
The bleu, blanc, et rouge looked pretty good through the first period, but things fell apart in the second and third, through a combination of defensive errors and goaltending mistakes. Tiredness can only explain so much, but the Capitals were ready and able to exploit the Canadiens’ defensive weaknesses, and, in the end, the Habs had no answer for them.
A One-Goal Gap
Josh Anderson and Cole Caufield broke into the Capitals’ zone in the first minute of play. Caufield lost the puck but regained it, but could not control it in time to get a shot on goal.
A few minutes later, Washington got their first chances after Corey Schueneman made a poor clearing pass from behind the Habs’ net. Montembeault had to come up with a couple of solid saves but he was able to keep his net clean.
Four minutes in, Nick Suzuki caught Joel Armia coming off the bench, giving the Finnish winger a break, but Armia lost his balance before he could get a shot away. Armia recovered, though, and got the puck back to Schueneman in front of the net, but the rookie defenceman’s shot just missed the net.
At the midpoint of the period, David Savard was sent to the penalty box for holding, giving Washington their first power-play opportunity. It was not an impressive one, though, as Rem Pitlick cleared the puck out twice, and then Ryan Poehling got a chance at a shorthanded goal, only to be foiled by Vitek Vanecek.
Nic Dowd finally opened the scoring at 12:23, deflecting a Dmitry Orlov shot while standing at the side of the net, giving the Capitals their first lead of the game.
Johan Larsson was sent to the box less than a minute later for hooking Schueneman, but the Habs were unable to control the puck in the offensive zone and set up the power play formation. Brendan Gallagher did manage to get away a shot from the right face-off circle, and Pitlick had a chance on a pass from Armia, but neither could beat Vanecek.
The shots in the first period favoured the Habs 15-7, but they trailed 4-6 in high-danger scoring chances.
It Takes Two (Capitals)
Just before the two-minute mark, Christian Dvorak was breaking into the Washington zone on the right side. As he encountered resistance, he turned slightly to the left, and then passed behind him to Jake Evans, who was skating along the right-side boards. With Dvorak having pulled away the defender, Evans was able to skate in freely. He snapped a quick wrist shot and placed the puck in the top right corner of the net, beating Vanecek at 1:56 and tying the game at a goal apiece.
Almost as soon as the puck was dropped, the Capitals forced a three-on-two break with Tom Wilson and Anthony Mantha leading the rush, but Montembeault had his position right and made the stop.
Gallagher then showed off his skating skills, picking up the puck on the left-side boards in the neutral zone, and skating in. He lost the puck on the boards, but snatched it back, curled behind the net, and then back toward the blue line. He almost lost the puck to Alexander Ovechkin, but regained, skated around the neutral zone … and back to the left-side boards. It was quite a demonstration skate for a player not best known for his skating skills.
Suzuki had an opportunity at the seven-minute mark in front of the net but could not tuck the puck in; Anderson and Caufield also had chances on the same play, but Vanecek blocked any and all attempts.
And then, Anderson and Nicklas Backstrom each picked up a two-minute minor at the 7:47 mark, setting the stage for two minutes of four-on-four hockey.
It didn’t take long for the Capitals to set up the play: Mantha, skating at speed along the boards, took a pass from former Hab Lars Eller, and sped past a surprised Alexander Romanov to break into the Habs’ zone alone. He took a wrist shot, which Montembeault appeared to stop, but it fell behind him, and Mantha, hunting for the rebound, was there in an instant to tap it into the net to restore the Washington lead.
And then, just 24 seconds later, Mantha was at it again. He poked the puck away from Caufield, passed it to Eller, and Eller returned the favour, sending Mantha in alone on Montembeault, and Mantha’s shot found the five-hole to put the lead at 3-1.
If 24 seconds seemed quick, Jeff Petry and Ryan Poehling were quicker yet: just 14 seconds after the second Mantha goal, Petry’s pass found Poehling open on the left side of the net, and the young forward made no mistake in snapping it into the net, and narrowing the lead back to a single goal.
Mike Hoffman was called for a hooking penalty in the neutral zone halfway through the period, and Romanov exacerbated the situation by jumping onto the ice when there were already five Montreal skaters there, giving the Capitals a nearly 90-second two-man advantage. Fortunately for the Habs, they were unable to capitalize on it.
With 4:24 left in the period, Evgeny Kuznetsov skated in from his own zone, picked apart the Montreal defence, and passed back from behind the net to Ovechkin, who was not being covered by any of the Montreal forwards — Caufield was only a few strides away. Ovechkin has scored a goal or three in his long career, and made no mistake in recording the fourth Washington goal of the night.
It was clear from the shots, too, that the tide had turned as the Habs were outshot 18-9 in the period, and the high-danger chances were now 11-5 for the Capitals.
A Third Goal, Yes, But About Those Floodgates …
The Habs looked better to start the final period, as Armia already hit the crossbar on a rush in the 20 seconds of play, and Chris Wideman had a chance on the same play.
Then, at 2:22, Romanov’s pass from the defensive zone found Tyler Pitlick, who skated into the Caps’ zone, curled across the front of Vanecek, and tried to find an opening from the close distance. Vanecek blocked it, but the rebound came loose in front of the net, and Poehling found it, flipping the puck into the empty side of the net. 4-3 for Washington now — were the Habs getting ready for a run at victory?
Alas, those hopes for the Montreal fans were quickly dashed. Larsson, on a rush into the Habs’ zone, passed the puck to the centre, where Dowd quickly took a wrist shot, and then Garnet Hathaway was at the side of the net, and tipped the puck behind a surprised Montembeault, restoring the two-goal lead. That took 46 seconds from the second Poehling goal.
And only 1:22 after that, the Capitals were again controlling play in the Montreal zone, with the Canadiens unable to gain the puck and clear, let alone get on the attack. Mantha passed the puck from the boards to Orlov, who curled back toward the blue line, and then snapped a wrist shot through a throng of traffic, finding an opening and the back of the net. In just over two minutes, the game had gone from a 4-2 score to 6-3.
Ovechkin, looking for a second goal, beat Edmundson on a rush at 8:24 and had a close-up chance, but Montembeault stopped that one. However, Edmundson was called for slashing on the play, giving the Capitals another man advantage.
The Caps controlled the play and kept shooting, but the Habs were able to block the shots. That is, until Orlov’s pass found Justin Schultz at the left-side hash marks. The veteran defenceman took a quick wrist shot at the net, and the puck deflected from Savard’s stick into the top corner of the net for a 7-3 lead at 9:50.
The Canadiens did manage to make the score a bit less embarrassing. Petry, circling in the neutral zone with the puck, spotted Suzuki, who broke into the Washington zone on the right side, and then took a quick wrist shot to beat Vanecek on the glove side at 14:53.
Micheal Pezzetta, trying to generate some energy with hard hitting, took it a bit too far and was sent to the box at 15:44 for a check to the head. Likely many fans already anticipated what was coming, and, indeed, 50 seconds into the power play, Kuznetsov’s wrist shot deflected off T.J. Oshie’s shin guard and into the net behind Montembeault. 8-4 at 16:35.
The shots were 16-8 for Washington in the final period, and the high-danger chances 6-2, increasing the Capitals’ high-danger count to 23 for the game.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Ryan Poehling (2g, 0a, +2, 4 shots, 13:02 TOI) worked hard and found the front of the net when the puck was there, capitalizing on the chances. A solid result for the rookie forward.
Second Star: Jeff Petry (0g, 2a, +2, 2 shots, 20:33 TOI) continues to look better, scored two assists, and was not on the ice for any of the Capitals’ six even-strength goals. Whether he stays or will be traded, he is starting to look like the Petry of old again.
Third Star: Joel Edmundson (0g, 0a, +2, 2 shots, 19:43 TOI) was the rock that the Habs need, not making mistakes — the penalty on Ovechkin being a reasonable one to prevent a goal.
Honourable Mention: Joel Armia (0g, 0a, +1, 2 shots, 11:43 TOI) didn’t get much ice time but had a handful of scoring chances, but put in time on both special teams, and his line with Evans and Rem Pitlick did not commit any defensive gaffes.