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In a short respite from the Canadiens’ schedule against playoff teams, the struggling Washington Capitals arrived at the Bell Centre for a Saturday-night tussle with the Habs. Even with Alexander Ovechkin finally starting to score, the Caps arrived in town with only two wins from their last ten games. The Habs, on the other hand? Well, they had allowed five or more goals in two of their last three games, so this would be no playoff series preview.

Alas, it was another loss, but the bleu, blanc, et rouge were in the game from the beginning to the very end. Once again, defensive miscues cost the team, but they were able to inflict pain on Washington in turn, losing only on the final goal by Aliaksei Protas, as their empty-net efforts came to naught.

Montreal’s Lines

Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovsky
Pearson – Evans – Anderson
Newhook – Roy – Armia
Pezzetta – Gignac – Gallagher

Matheson – Guhle
Savard – Struble
Xhekaj – Kovacevic


Ten Thoughts

1) It looked as if Kaiden Guhle was going to get an early penalty for high-sticking Dylan Strome, just 2:20 into the game. However, the referees overturned it on review, as T.J. Oshie lifted Guhle’s stick, causing it to hit Strome’s face. Correct call in my view, but Guhle would have been sent to the box nine times out of ten on this play.

2) It only took another minute and a half for Washington to open the scoring, though. Anthony Mantha was left alone at the left side of the net: David Savard was on the other post, on his off side, but Jayden Struble had left the net-front coverage to Jake Evans, who really didn’t cover Mantha, letting the Caps veteran tap in a rebound.

3) The Habs responded quickly, though, and this time it was the third line: Joel Armia, rushing into the Washington zone, sent a pass over to Joshua Roy on the left-side boards, and Roy in turn dropped it back for Arber Xhekaj, trailing on the rush. A hard wrist shot from Xhekaj did the job and found the corner of the net, beating Darcy Kuemper to tie the game.

4) The Habs conceded what would turn out to be their only penalty of the game as Armia was called for tripping Max Pacioretty at 9:05. The Capitals’ big-gun power play, combined with Armia missing from the Habs’ OK unit turned out to be a grim combination for the bleu, blanc, et rouge. Six shots on net and nearly two expected goals in just 55 seconds. And a goal for the Capitals, an Oshie one-timer from between the hash marks, to put them back ahead. No blame on Allen on this one.

5) After struggling to start the second, the Canadiens picked up the pace as the period wore on. This finally paid off just after the 16-minute mark, as the third line broke into the Washington zone again. This time Armia fought off two Washington defenders and got the puck to Alex Newhook. Newhook lobbed the net toward the goal, caught the bounce back from a defender, and then lifted the rebound over the trapper of Kuemper to bring the game back to an even score.

6) Alexander Ovechkin sure looks like he’s lost a stride or two. Oshie and Strome look like they are coasting to allow the 38-year-old Russian veteran to keep up with them. Yes, he still has a shot but he’s only dangerous when parked in his usual office, and opponents can often anticipate those shots. The Athletic ranks him roughly on par with Patrik Laine, but with an $11.4M salary for two more seasons after this one. Ouch.

7) Sonny Milano, in his first game back from IR, opened the scoring in the third period. A perfect redirection of a Max Pacioretty pass, and Allen could not possibly have reacted fast enough to that one.

8) It was apparently but a flesh wound, as the Habs kept peppering Kuemper with shots. John Carlson was called for slashing Brendan Gallagher on a call that even Habs fans might question, but we are not ones to turn down a gift power play now that it’s working. The revised top unit, with Newhook in place of the departed Sean Monahan, worked well, and 1:05 into the penalty, Nick Suzuki one-timed a pass from Juraj Slafkovsky into the top corner, and the Habs pulled even once again.

9) Alas, it only took three minutes for Washington to regain the lead. This time it was Protas with a wrist shot from the front of the net, as neither Evans nor Josh Anderson, both defending the front of the net, took away the shot or controlled Protas’s stick. Second time in this game for Evans, whose defensive instincts should really be better than this by now.

10) As the clock was winding down, the third line was applying pressure again, this time with the Montreal net empty, Newhook and Armia crowding the front of the Washington net. Newhook drew a high stick from Tom Wilson, and all of a sudden the Habs had a six-on-four power play opportunity. Martin St-Louis sent out his top unit of Suzuki, Slafkovsky, Cole Caufield, and Mike Matheson, plus Armia to cause havoc in front of the net. On the positive side, four shots and no empty-netter conceded, but the Habs were unable to find a way past Kuemper to tie up the game and had to settle for a 4-3 regulation loss.

HW Habs 3 Stars

First Star: Joel Armia (0g, 2a, 3 shots, +2, 15:07 TOI) gets a first star as the proxy for the third line, which scored both of the Habs’ even-strength goals, Newhook and Roy also playing very well. A super play by Armia on the Newhook goal to maintain possession and get the puck to Newhook, and +2 is nothing to scoff at when the line spent almost a third of its time playing against the Caps’ top line.

Second Star: Arber Xhekaj (1g, 0a, 3 shots, +0, 16:35 TOI) played another penalty-free game, scored the Habs’ first goal, and seems to be regaining head coach St-Louis’s confidence with another 16-minute-plus game.

Third Star: Jake Allen (34 shots, 30 saves, .882 save percentage, 1.24 GSAx) held the Habs in the game throughout, giving them a chance to win it. A solid recovery from the five-goal loss in his last start. Now, they really need to improve some of that defensive work.