The Washington Capitals went to Montreal with the mission of extending their winning streak to six games, tying their longest of the season. Mission: accomplished. The Caps scored three third period goals to break a 1-1 tie and defeat the Canadiens, 4-1, on Monday night at Bell Centre.
Nicklas Backstrom opened the scoring mid-way through the first period. He started the play by digging out a loose puck in the corner to the right of goalie Carey Price and sliding it out to Alex Ovechkin at the left point. Ovechkin leaned into a shot that Price stopped. The rebound leaked out into the top of the crease where Backstrom was arriving. He took the puck on his backhand and wrapped it around Price’s left pad to make it 1-0, 11:03 into the period.
That was where the score stood until the third period when the Canadiens tied the game on a power play, Tomas Plekanec solving the chaos in front of goalie Braden Holtby to stuff in a loose puck at 7:18 of the period.
Less than a minute later, the Caps had the lead for good on a sparkling play by Evgeny Kuznetsov. Working his way around Max Pacioretty to collect a loose puck just outside the Montreal blue line, he then dangled around defenseman Jeff Petry to break in on Price. He lifted a shot past Price’s blocker, and the Caps had a 2-1 lead 8:12 into the third period.
Brett Connolly increased the lead less than three minutes later. Carey Price was a bit too lackadaisical in leaving the puck for Petry at the goal line to his right. It was just the opportunity Kuznetsov took advantage of, darting in front of Petry to collect the puck and circle around the Canadiens’ net. Coming out the other side, he spied Connolly coming into the offensive zone. Connolly took Kuznetsov’s pass and snapped a shot past Price to make it 3-1 at the 11-minute mark.
The Caps closed the scoring late in the third on a power play. NIcklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson exchanged passes on the right side before Backstrom stepped out and sent a pass across to Alex Ovechkin at the top of the left wing circle. Ovechkin settled the puck and in one motion snapped a shot that snuck through and eluded Price’s glove on the far side to give the Caps a 4-1 win.
-- The win allowed the Caps to jump over the New York Rangers into third place in the Metropolitan Division and tie the Pittsburgh Penguins in points (57). Metropolitan Division teams now occupy the top four spots in the Eastern Conference standings.
-- Alex Ovechkin had a three point night (1-2-3) to bring him to within one point of 1,000 for his career. It was Ovechkin’s first two-assist game of the season. His goal was the 544th of his career, lifting him into a tie with the legendary Maurice “Rocket” Richard for 29th place all-time in NHL goal scoring. Next in Ovechkin’s sights in the all-time rankings is Michel Goulet with 548 goals.
-- Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had two-point games. For Backstrom it was his eighth multi-point game of the season, tying Marcus Johansson for the team lead. It was Kuznetsov’s seventh such game.
-- Liam O’Brien saw his first action of the season after his recent call-up from Hershey. He skated eight shifts and was the only Capital without a shot on goal (he did not have a shot attempt in 6:08 of ice time).
-- Brett Connolly’s fifth goal of the season came in another win. That’s 5-for-5 for Connolly in terms of goals and wins, and the Caps are 19-5-2 with him in the lineup.
-- The Caps enjoyed a 39-23 edge in shots on goal, their biggest shot differential on the road this season.
-- Karl Alzner had a good night in the underlying numbers, finishing a team-best plus-3 and blocking six of the 24 shots the Caps blocked on the evening.
-- The Caps were 4-for-4 on the penalty kill, extending their recent run of success to 56-for-59 in their last 14 games (94.9 percent).
-- Braden Holtby’s shutout streak ended at 167:18 when Tomas Plekanec scored in the third period. Nevertheless, he is 5-0-1, 1.11, .957, with two shutouts in his last six games.
-- The Caps enjoyed a 68-62 overall shot attempt advantage over Montreal, 56-47 at 5-on-5 (CF% of 54.37 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).
In the end…
Even with T.J. Oshie out with an injury, the Caps kept humming along in one of the less friendly venues for road teams in the NHL. If anything, the Caps got stronger as the game went on, dominating the shot attempts from the 30-minute mark on. If there was a dark spot in that regard, it was that the fourth line of Jay Beagle, Daniel Winnik, and Tom Wilson, along with the defensive pair of Karl Alzner and John Carlson, were all under 50 percent CF at fives, the only Caps to do so.
Nevertheless, the Caps took advantage of a depleted team and abused goalie Carey Price far more than they did in their previous meeting, when the Caps managed only 21 shots in a 2-1 loss. The four goals allowed by Price tied his season high, while the 39 shots the Caps fired at him was the fourth-highest total he has faced (it might be worth noting that in the three games with higher shot totals, Price was 2-0-1).
It was a good start to the week, but now things get harder with the Pittsburgh Penguins coming to town on Thursday night. It will present an opportunity – two in fact. Alex Ovechkin could reach the 1,000 point mark in his career, and more important, the Caps could jump over the Penguins into second place in the Metropolitan Division with the Columbus Blue Jackets the only team remaining between them and the best record in the league.