Saturday, March 26, 2011

A TWO-point night -- Game 76: Caps 2 - Canadiens 0

And the circle is complete.

The Caps finished their six-game road trip where they started it, at Bell Centre in Montreal. It was a happy ending to the tour, the Caps defeating the Montreal Canadiens, 2-0, behind 18 saves by Braden Holtby, and goals from Marco Sturm and Alexander Semin.

Sturm broke his personal scoring drought, potting a goal on his first shift of the game when he drove to the Montreal net and swatted a rebound of a Nicklas Backstrom shot past goalie Carey Price. It was his first goal with Washington in his 13th game with his new team and on his 22nd shot as a Cap.

That was it until Alexander Semin bought the Caps some insurance by converting a cross ice feed from Backstrom and roofing the puck over Price’s outstretched left pad with less than four minutes left.

In between, Braden Holtby stopped all 18 shots he faced to record his second NHL shutout and bring his record to 10-2-2 with the Caps.

And that was that…other stuff:

-- In football, field position is so important because it is difficult for an offense to move the ball 70 or 80 yards downfield without a turnover or having a mistake stall their momentum. So it is in hockey. If a team is always going to have to lug the puck up ice from deep in their own end it is hard to get the puck cleanly up ice on a consistent basis. And the Caps made moving the puck up ice difficult by forcing the Canadiens deep and clogging the neutral zone, preventing the home team from getting much in the way of forward momentum. It was a big factor in keeping the shot total down for Montreal. They had to work too hard just to gain the offensive zone and didn’t have enough offensive zone possession time.

-- The Caps played almost the perfect start to a road game. They outshot the Canadiens 10-1 and scored the first goal of the game in the first 9:50 (that Canadien shot coming from outside of 40 feet).

-- But the Caps could have iced the game early, having been the beneficiary of three power plays. They registered four shots on the three man-advantage opportunities without getting any past Carey Price.

-- Sturm and Semin got the goals, but Nicklas Backstrom had the primary assist on each, had seven shots on goal (tying a career high, set against Florida; January 29, 2010), and split 16 draws he took.

-- Every Cap had at least one shot on goal, except Matt Bradley and Jeff Schultz.

-- Part of that denial of territory game is being careful with the puck. The Caps won the turnover battle, getting 15 turnovers from Montreal (the Canadiens’ giveaways plus Caps takeaways) to seven of their own.

-- Brooks Laich led all forwards in shorthanded ice time, and he did a superb job in that role last night. He also won 11 of 17 draws, including all five he took in the offensive zone.

-- That’s three times shut out in a row for the Canadiens, having fallen to Boston (7-0) in their last game and to Buffalo (2-0) in the game before that. Seems they used up all their goals in the 8-1 win over Minnesota in the game before this three-game skid.

-- On the other side of the ice, the Caps allowed two or fewer goals in four of the six games of the six-game road trip.

-- Getting slapped around by the Rangers seems to give the Caps a wake-up call. After losing to the Blueshirts, 7-0, in December they went on a 6-1-3 run. Since getting whacked, 6-0, in late February the Caps are 12-2-0.

-- Holtby’s win makes it three Caps goalies with at least ten wins (Michal Neuvirth, 24; Semyon Varlamov, 10; Holtby, 10). No, it’s not a record. It is not even unique to this season. Tampa Bay has three goalies with more than 10 wins (Dwayne Roloson, Dan Ellis, Mike Smith). But Roloson is about as old as Holtby and Varlamov combined, there is that.

-- The Caps were 35-30 on draws, but going 15-10 in the defensive zone helped take the heat off Braden Holtby, too. No Cap had a losing percentage on defensive zone draws.

-- The Caps were 2-for-5 on the power play in Montreal in the first game of this road trip. After going 0-for-4 last night the Caps finished the last five games of the trip 1-for-13.

-- On the other hand, killing off all three Montreal chances tonight left the penalty killers 17-for-18 on the six-game trip.

In the end, it was a successful road trip, even with the egg the Caps laid in Ottawa. Going 4-2-0, allowing only 11 goals, and getting two shutouts has to qualify as a success, especially since the Caps missed Alex Ovechkin for the last three games of the trip, two of which the Caps won. Last night’s win gives the Caps 22 wins on the road this season (tying this club for second place in the franchise’s record book for road wins) to match the 22 wins they have at home. And home is where the Caps are headed, perhaps to end the Carolina Hurricanes’ faint playoff hopes on Tuesday.

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