The bleu, blanc et rouge entertained the visiting Washington Capitals on Saturday night, one of the few teams with a worse power play than the Habs, at least so far in this young season. After losing two of three to the Caps last year, the Canadiens fought back after a late Washington surge to take a 3-2 overtime victory.
Caufield – Suzuki – Harvey-Pinard
Pearson – Newhook – Slafkovsky
Anderson – Monahan – Gallagher
Pezzetta – Evans – Ylonen
Matheson – Savard
Harris – Kovacevic
Xhekaj – Barron
1) It was a sleepy start to the game saw only three shots recorded by the two-thirds point of the first period. While the Habs pressed at times, the Capitals kept their attack to the outside and blocked most of the shots in the early going.
2) Alexander Ovechkin is looking far from dominant. While he did get a two-on-one opportunity near the end of the first period, Jake Allen had no trouble handling the three shots he did put on the net in the first frame. He seems a step slower this year, and losing a board battle to Jake Evans, 50 lbs lighter, wasn’t impressive, either. He can still pass, but if this is 2023-24 peak Ovechkin, he is certainly past the peak.
3) Ovechkin finally got on the board just before the end of the period-by slashing Josh Anderson. The Habs’ first power play looked much better than the ones by the Capitals, with good control and movement. Puck to Cole Caufield, who passes across to Suzuki, instead of shooting, then a quick pass across the front of the net, and Sean Monahan is in position to tap the puck in just inside the goalpost for the Canadiens’ second power play goal of the season. The third-period power plays showed similar movement and creativity; this is how the power play needs to work, more often.
4) Brendan Gallagher is back doing what he does best, making things happen in front of the net. As Monahan and Tanner Pearson broke into the Washington zone on a rush, Monahan gained control of the puck on the right-side boards, while Pearson beat out Trevor van Riemsdyk for a prime net-front position. What no one was counting on was Gallagher, trailing on the play, driving for the net and beating out Evgeni Kuznetsov to the puck to score his first of the season.
5) Cole Caufield can hit! The diminutive winger levelled Matthews Philips (admittedly smaller yet than Caufield) in the second period, showing that he is not just a one-dimensional scorer, not that we really mind one-dimensional scorers on the Habs, do we?
6) The Habs apparently don’t have a monopoly on stupid minor penalties as the Capitals were making a big effort to top them on this, particularly in the third, with both Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson picking up seemingly meaningless minor penalties to give the Habs two relatively brief two-man power plays. Not to be outdone, Anderson slashed John Carlson while the Habs were still on a power play. Staying out of the box remains unpopular this year.
7) Allen looked far more comfortable than in the first game. He wasn’t tested much until Washington’s second power play, and then the two-on-one resulting from a Sean Monahan giveaway: there, Johnathan Kovacevic was unable to block Ovechkin’s pass across to Anthony Mantha, but Allen made a good slide across to ensure Mantha had nothing to shoot at. He played well enough to earn a shutout, but Dylan Strome got free on two passes across the front of the net to cut the margin to 2-1 midway through the third, and then again with the goaltender pulled.
8) Might it be time to start working on the five-on-six situations? The Habs gave up yet another one tonight, allowing the Capitals to tie the game on the second Strome goal. While the points might not matter so much this year, the team needs to figure out how to protect a lead, even when the other team pulls the goalie for an extra attacker.
9) Apart from that body check, Caufield really does know how to put the puck in the net. Breaking in on the wing in overtime, he had a clear shot at Darcy Kuemper and made no mistake, securing the two points for the home team, and making up for the team’s late collapse in regulation. That’s now three goals and five points in four games this season.
10) Martin St. Louis was putting a lot of responsibility on Johnathan Kovacevic and Jordan Harris, matching them up to the Ovechkin line much of the night. The duo acquitted themselves well in the face of the Capitals’ strongest line, even if that unit did manage to score both of the Washington goals. Kovacevic has been steady and reliable, and this growth is reflected in getting St. Louis’s trust on tough assignments.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Cole Caufield (1g, 1a, 5 shots, 21:29 TOI)
Second Star: Sean Monahan (1g, 1a, 1 shot, 18:10 TOI)
Third Star: Jake Allen (32 shots, 30 saves, .938 SV%)