What a difference a day makes.
One night after being shut out and embarrassed — at home — by one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference, the Washington Capitals took to the road to exact the same punishment to their opponent, blanking the Montreal Canadiens 3-0, before 21,273 disappointed and disgruntled fans at the Bell Centre.
Michael Neuvirth, making his first start since Dec. 26, stopped all 31 Montreal shots to earn his sixth career shutout. The win, coupled with the Florida Panthers 4-3 overtime loss to Colorado, puts the Caps back into third place in the conference with 52 points.
Mathieu Perreault, playing in front of his family and friends, opened the scoring with a laser past Carey Price’s blocker just 4:41 into the game. He took a head-man pass from Dmitry Orlov and did the work himself, entering the offensive zone and flicking a sharp wrister by the Montreal netminder.
The Caps got on the board again less than four minutes later as Marcus Johansson fought off a defender practically laying on top of him to beat a stunned Price (13 saves). Troy Brouwer had the primary helper, taking the puck from the defensive blue line unmolested through the neutral zone and hitting Johansson at speed at the offensive blue line.
The way the Canadiens have been playing lately, two goals would have sufficed. But the captain, Alex Ovechkin, added an insurance marker in the second period, a power play goal, his 19th of the campaign. Montreal fumbled a clearing attempt that was corralled by Dennis Wideman, who ushered the puck to Alexander Semin, who had rotated into Wideman’s spot at the point. Semin slid the puck cross-ice to Ovechkin, who wound up for a slap shot, getting the puck through traffic and off the near post for the clincher.
The Canadiens can’t say they didn’t have their chances. They received seven power play opportunities to Washington’s four. But the Caps killed all seven Montreal power plays, including a six-minute triple-minor assessed to John Erksine at the start of the third period after the rugged defenseman was called for elbowing and high-sticking, drawing blood on Canadiens forward Mathieu Darche.
Neuvirth and the penalty killers were up to the task, and many in the Bell Centre streamed out after the final second ticked off the fruitless power play. The Capitals blocked 25 shots in the contest, preferring to pack things in tight after achieving a two-goal lead so early in the game. Their resultant 16 shots on goal for were a season-low.
The main event that many Caps fans wanted to see was anyone stepping up to retaliate against Rene Bourque, recently acquired by Montreal, for the elbow to the head of Capitals center Nick Backstrom. Bourque served his five-game suspension, while Backstrom has not played since and has no real timetable for returning.
The fans got their wish just 1:15 into this game, as Matt Hendricks took up the fight against Bourque. Bourque got the better of Hendricks in the tussle, but the point was made. Hockey code said the fight needed to happen, it happened, and everyone went about their business.
It was a big win for the Caps, putting the bad taste of Tuesday’s loss behind them. The win should also instill some confidence to a team that has struggled mightily on the road. The Caps travel to Carolina Friday and Pittsburgh Sunday, games against a down-right bad opponent and a severely injured one.
Maybe the carry-over from the shutout win will give them momentum. This team has been Jekyll-and-Hyde all season, but having a little success on the road here could go a long way in making this team tougher down the stretch in the second half.
CAPS NOTES: Both Matt Hendricks and Marcus Johansson appeared to be in discomfort after taking heavy hits in the third period, but neither suffered serious injury and both professed to be fine following the game.