The Canadiens drew first blood late in the first period when Arturri Lehkonen finished a play on which all the little things went wrong for the Caps. It started with the Caps “winning” a faceoff to the right of goaltender Braden Holtby. The “winning” is in quotes because the Caps promptly lost control of the puck in the corner to Lehkonen, who then got position on defenseman Matt Niskanen to take advantage of a skating path along the end wall. Lehkonen followed that path behind the Caps’ net, then wrapped the puck around the post and off the heel of Holtby’s stick into the back of the net to make it 1-0 14:41 into the contest.
That would be all of the scoring for the next 20 minutes of ice time, but late in the second period, the Caps took advantage of some outside-the-rules play by the visitors. With Nathan Beaulieu and Alexei Emelin in the penalty box to give the Caps a 5-on-3 power play, an attempted clear by Andrei Markov up the wall was claimed by John Carlson before the puck could exit the zone. From his knees, Carlson whipped the puck across to Alex Ovechkin, who fed it down to Justin Williams at the bottom of the left wing faceoff circle. Williams took a moment, then slipped a pass under Markov’s stick to the opposite faceoff circle, from which Nicklas Backstrom one-timed the puck over goalie Carey Price’s left pad, tying the contest at the 14:16 mark.
Barely two minutes later, though, the Canadiens had what would prove to be the game-winner. Max Pacioretty skated the puck over the Caps’ blue line and left it for Phillip Danault along the left wing wall. Danualt eased the puck forward, back to Pacioretty, who threw a pass to the low slot where Jeff Petry was closing. Petry redirected the puck past Holtby, and the Habs had their final 2-1 margin.
-- Talk about record one doesn’t necessarily want to set. With the loss, Barry Trotz became the losingest coach in the history of the regular season in the NHL. The loss was Trotz’ 653rd in his coaching career (531 in regulation time, 122 in extra time), breaking a tie with Ron Wilson. Trotz might not hold that spot for long, though. Dallas’ Lindy Ruff has 651 career losses, and Winnipeg’s Paul Maurice has 647 career losses. Maurice leads all active coaches in losses in regulation time (550, fourth all time), while Trotz and Ruff are tied with 531, tied for sixth all-time (thanks to Dirk Hoag, formerly a blogger for the Nashville Predators, for unearthing that nugget).
-- Carey Price’s record went to 29-1-1 in his last 31 games played on Saturday for the Canadiens.
-- Justin Williams’ assist on Nicklas Backstrom’s goal made it four straight games with a point and points in six of his last seven contests (5-2-7).
-- Backstrom continued his hot play over the last five weeks. With his goal, he is 8-10-18 in 16 games since November 15th.
-- Tom Wilson had marks in only one column of his line of the score sheet. He had six hits in 10:43 of ice time.
-- Wilson’s line of the score sheet was almost crowded compared to Brooks Orpik’s… one shot attempt blocked in 16:22 of ice time.
-- In the Younger Guns category, Jakub Vrana and the just-recalled Zach Sanford combined for two shots on goal (both by Vrana), eight shot attempts, one hit (Sanford), and two blocked shots. Unfortunately, no points between them.
-- The Caps out-hit the Canadiens, 43-18. The Canadiens had the puck a lot…
-- …but they did so little with it. Montreal finished the game with just 44 shot attempts (the Caps had 58), but…
-- …the Caps went 15:32 without a shot on goal, from 17:23 of the second period to the 12:55 mark of the third period.
In the end…
The Caps never seemed to be in this game, and with the Caps matching their shot of goal total (21) with shot attempts blocked by the Canadiens (21), the game looked hauntingly like the 2010 playoffs. From the start, it seemed as if Carey Price was just a bit in their heads, the Caps frequently opting for one more pass when a shot might have been a better option. Neither goalie was called upon often to do much in the way of big saves, and the score reflected that.
The good part of this loss, to the extent there is one, is that the Caps still held what was the league’s fifth best scoring offense to two goals. The bad part is that the Caps let a team that hadn’t won a road game in regulation time in almost two months off the hook. But the bottom line is that on a night when the Caps saw a six-game winning streak come to an end, two of the teams with which the Caps are fighting for position in the Metropolitan Division lost – the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime to the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Philadelphia Flyers to Dallas Stars – although another (the New York Rangers) won in a Gimmick. It was not a good night for the Caps, but it wasn’t a total wash out in the bigger scheme of things.