Wednesday, March 16, 2011
A TWO-point night -- Game 71: Caps 4 - Canadiens 2
And that was in the first 126 seconds.
The gremlins were out in force as the Caps pushed their winning streak to nine with a 4-2 win over the Canadiens in Montreal last night. The teams exchanged goals in the second minute of the game when Marcus Johansson took advantage of a strange bounce off the glass along the side boards to sweep a puck into an empty Montreal net, goalie Carey Price having circled to the back of the cage to play the puck that never came.
Twenty seconds later, Braden Holtby went to play the puck behind the Caps net, did so poorly (kids, there is a lesson in this), got tangled up with his own defenseman and the post of his cage, and couldn’t stop the drive from Travis Moen from a sharp angle along the side wall that tied the game.
At 2:06 the Caps thought they took the lead once more, Matt Hendricks thinking he nudged the puck out from under a goal mouth scramble under Price, just as the net was coming off its moorings. But after a lengthy review the video gods decreed that they could not see the puck crossing the line, and the decision was “no goal.”
The rest of the game, if not boring, might be considered anticlimactic. But for the record…
-- The Caps got three goals from centers (arguably their weakest position on the ice with Nicklas Backstrom and Jason Arnott out). Marcus Johansson got a pair – that freak goal to start things off and a backhand from in front of Price (defending his net on that one) in the seventh minute of the third period that was the game-winner. It was his first two-goal game in the NHL and extended his points streak to four games.
-- Brooks Laich got one late in the first period on a play stolen from last year’s playbook. Karl Alzner got control of the puck in the circle in the Caps’ defensive zone and saw Laich heading out and down the right side. Alzner flung a pass from inside the Caps’ blue line down and across the ice to the streaking Laich just outside the Canadiens’ line. Laich took the puck in stride, sped around the large, yet immobile Hal Gill, knifed to the middle and stuffed the puck past Price for a 2-1 first intermission lead.
-- It is probably no coincidence that a player such as Laich has four goals and eight points in his last nine games – coinciding with the winning streak. Getting that kind of secondary production is what the Caps have to have to be successful, especially with guys like Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and Tom Poti out.
-- Matt Bradley and Paul Mara provided entertainment for the fans of pugilism. Both players managed to get off some big right hooks of questionable effectiveness. Bradley might have had more blows land, but we scored it a draw.
-- Montreal’s long injury list got longer when both Tomas Plekanec and Jeff Halpern could not answer the call for the third period. LBI’s, both.
-- After his adventure, Holtby stopped 24 of the last 25 shots he faced.
-- Records… The Caps had already achieved their fourth consecutive 40-win season, a club record. But the six-game road winning streak achieved with the win tied a franchise record dating back to 1984.
-- It is important to get the secondary scoring from the likes of Johansson and Laich, but there is that primary scoring, too. Alex Ovechkin recorded an assist, setting up the Johansson game-winner, to make it 4-8-12 on the winning streak and 9-14-23 in his last 19 games (four game-winners in that goal total).
-- Eric Fehr played only one shift in the second period, 5:16 of ice time for the game… “UBI.” He might have been injured when he was denied by Price at the left post with less than two minutes to go in the first, but was taken down by Paul Mara in the process, landing on his shoulder.
-- Johansson might have had a hat trick, had he been able to convert a shorthanded break late in the first period.
-- The Caps penalty kill was outstanding. The held the Canadiens to three power play shots in three power plays, had an excellent scoring chance (Johansson), and drew a penalty of their own while killing a penalty off.
-- Meanwhile, it might have been but one game, but there was Ovechkin out on the left point once more on the power play…no power play goals for the Caps on five chances, no power play shots on goal for Ovechkin (note: sorry for the awkward grammar there...both items apply to Ovechkin; the Caps did have two power play goals).
-- Given the game Laich had, it probably comes as no surprise that he had six shots on goal, but that only tied for the team lead. John Carlson had six of his own.
-- We don’t follow the Canadiens as closely as we do the Caps, but it seems that Montreal is going to have trouble winning games when their team leads in shots on goal are David Desharnais and Tom Pyatt (four and three, respectively, of the 26 total).
-- For a guy who skated 15 shifts and played less than ten minutes, Jay Beagle managed to get through most of the score sheet buffet – a shot on goal, two shots blocked, a miss, three hits, a takeaway, and five draws taken (he lost four).
-- OK, does the pairing of Dennis Wideman and Jeff Schultz not work? Each was on the ice for both Montreal goals.
-- What’s up with Jason Chimera? He hasn’t had a goal in his last 18 games and has only a pair of assists in that span. He is also a minus-8 over that stretch. He played barely nine minutes last night, only the third time this season he played fewer than ten minutes.
-- Who led the team in giveaways last night? Braden Holtby. Your goaltender leading in that category (ok, he had two and was tied with Ovechkin and Tyler Sloan) is not generally a good thing.
-- One final note...that goal horn in Bell Centre sounds like the horn of an old Buick that got stuck in the on position. I wanted to kick the TV when Montreal scored to turn it off.
In the end, nine in a row is nine in a row. And 19 road wins in 34 tries is not too far off the pace of 24 wins in 41 road games set last season. It’s a good way to get things started, keeping the pressure on Philadelphia (who won last night to maintain their one-point lead in the Eastern Conference). The Caps will get a chance to reprise this effort when they visit Bell Centre again in ten days. We hope by then that road streak is still intact. But things do get harder…immediately. Detroit is waiting on the Caps.