If it was “opening night” for the rest of the season, as we noted in the pregame, it was a good start.
The Washington Capitals put forth a workman-like effort and defeated the Montreal Canadiens last night at Verizon Center by a 4-1 margin. The win pulled the Caps to within a point of the eighth-place Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference and within two points of the Southeast Division leading Winnipeg Jets with two games in hand.
The Caps got four goals from four players in four different ways. Matiheu Perreault got things started for the home team on some incredibly sloppy and lazy play by the Canadiens. Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec tried to send the puck around the end boards in his own zone, but the puck eluded Alexei Emelin on the way through. Before Ryan White could slide over and corral the puck, Jason Chimera intercepted it at the left wing wall. He flipped it harmlessly in the direction of the Montreal net. But on its way there, Tomas Kaberle was slow to pick up Perreault at the far side of the net and waved at the puck as it was going by. Carey Price was nothing more than a casual observer, content to stay deep in his net and watch the puck flutter by. The two Canadiens not taking any initiative resulted in the puck settling on Perreault’s stick, and the Caps’ forward chipped it behind Price for the game’s first goal.
Chimera got one of his own by taking advantage of his unique skill – speed. The play started with Alexander Semin doing something he isn’t always given credit for doing – taking a hit to make a play. Two Canadiens closed on Semin at the wall, but Semin slid the puck ahead to Chimera before he was hit. Chimera picked it up at the Capitals blue line and split two Montreal defenders at center ice. He charged in alone on Price and tried to slip the puck through the five-hole. Price swallowed the puck in his pads, but his momentum carried him over his goal line, and the puck ended up squirting beneath them for the 2-0 lead.
The announcement of the Chimera goal wasn’t complete when the Caps took possession of the puck once more off the ensuing faceoff. Marcus Johansson got things started by collecting the puck at the Capitals’ blue line and starting up ice. When he closed on the Canadiens’ blue line, Montreal defenseman Ryan white waved at the puck to try to sweep it aside, but managed only to create a chance for Johansson to cut inside. He did, and as he crossed the blue line, Johansson dropped the puck for Dmitry Orlov. The Caps’ defenseman wasted no time and pushed the puck to Alex Ovechkin, who joined the 3-on-2 rush. Ovechkin one timed the puck past defenseman P.K. Subban and goalie Carey Price for a 3-0 lead 16 seconds after the Chimera goal.
After Rene Bourque scored a shorthanded goal early in the third period, Joel Ward ended the evening’s scoring with an empty net goal in the last minute of play.
-- Ward’s goal snapped a personal 21-game streak without a goal. It was the first time he a scored a goal in a Caps win since November 1st.
-- It could have been much worse for the Canadiens but for Carey Price, and that just applies to Price’s work against Troy Brouwer. Price robbed Brouwer on consecutive shifts in the second period, first with a glove save from point blank range near his left post, and on the next shift on a nifty redirect by Brouwer from the low slot.
-- Scott Gomez’ adventure of a season continues. No goals for him, but he did get a look at each of the last three goals scored by the Caps when he was on the ice. He joined Ryan White at a minus-3 for the evening.
-- If Michal Neuvirth looks unspectacular in his goaltending, he is having a good night. He looked quite unspectacular, relying on technique and technical play to make saves look quite routine, despite the fact that every Montreal skater except Josh Gorges registered a shot on goal.
-- Montreal was credited with only one takeaway for the entire contest. Can’t necessarily say it was a scoring effect, since the Caps had eight of their own.
-- P.K. Subban tried his level best to try and goad Jason Chimera into taking a dumb penalty when the Caps took a lead, but Chimera sort of stood there looking at him like, “dude, what is your problem?” It was not one of Subban’s best nights, as he took two penalties of his own and finished a minus-2.
-- What a difference Mike Green makes. Been a long time since Caps fans saw a defenseman skating the puck out of his own end or moving it up with a first pass as confidently as Green did last night.
-- No doubt folks are going to remember Jeff Schultz losing his skates from underneath him and tumbling to the ice on one occasion last night. What they won’t remember is his playing more than 15 minutes and finishing plus-1. Just meat and potatoes defense.
-- The Caps had six power play opportunities. They have not had that many at home since December 9th. They have not had that many and failed to convert any of them since going 0-for-7 against Tampa Bay on October 10th.
-- With the win, the Caps became the first team in the Eastern Conference to reach the 20-win mark at home this season. It Is the fifth straight season the Caps have won at least 20 games at home.
-- Time management. Alex Ovechkin skated only four shifts in the third period, only two after the power play on which Montreal scored their shorthanded goal.
-- Montreal has now gone 276:32 without having scored an even-strength goal on Washington.
In the end, the Caps are back in position to jump into the playoff-eight. If they win against Toronto tonight and Florida loses in Carolina, the Caps will move into eighth place. But at the moment the Caps are “1-0-0” in the “the rest of the season” portion of their schedule. And that is something to build on.