The Washington Capitals have officially found someone they can beat on the road.
Tomas Vokoun stopped all 30 Montreal Canadiens shots he faced, leading the Caps to a 3-0 shut out of Les Habitants before a disgusted crowd of over 21,000 at Bell Centre in Montreal. It’s the second time this season the Caps have shut out the Canadiens on their home ice, and third time in their last three trips to the Old Province. The Caps are 5-0-1 in their last six trips to Montreal.
Vokoun was sharp in goal, but hardly tested by a Montreal team that’s really struggling to put goals on the scoreboard. The Habs are 9-11-7 at home, 3-5-2 in their last 10 games, and now tied with Carolina for fewest points in the Eastern Conference.
On the other hand, the Capitals were sorely in need of a road win, and Bell Centre was the perfect tonic. Saturday’s win was the Caps ninth on the road this season and comes at an important time, having fallen out of first place in the Southeast Division as a result of losing in Florida Thursday night.
Pending results of the rest of the games on the slate in the NHL tonight, the Caps tenuously hold the eighth spot in the Conference with 58 points (27-20-4).
Dennis Wideman got the Caps on the board in the first period, sending a knuckleball past Peter Budaj (20 saves) after Brooks Laich (two assists) won an offensive zone face-off. The tumbling puck floated over Budaj’s left shoulder and the goalie barely flinched, having been screened on the shot mere moments after the draw. It was Wideman’s 10th goal of the season.
The rest of the first period and all of the second was a sloppy mess, with both teams committing turnover after turnover, and the Caps willing to settle into a 1-2-2 zone and allow Montreal to try to dictate the speed of the game. The game plan that worked, as Montreal continually fumbled the puck through the neutral zone or were satisfied to hoist 30 foot shots into Vokoun’s chest.
In the third period, the Caps doubled their lead when Matt Hendricks (3) deposited a rebound into a wide open cage from 15 feet. Credit for the hard work on the goal goes to Alexander Semin, who won a loose puck in the corner while sitting on his rear-end, and Brooks Laich, who corralled said puck and did hard work to get the puck on net where Hendricks could pick up the loose change.
Semin put his own name in the scoring column a little later. He picked off a lazy Montreal D-to-D pass in his own end and went off on a breakaway, but was hooked from behind by Tomas Kaberle before he could get a shot off against Budaj. On the ensuing penalty shot, Semin made no mistake, burying a slap shot from the slot top-shelf glove-side on the defenseless goaltender.
It was the Caps second penalty shot of the game, a first in Caps history in one game. In the first period, Troy Brouwer was awarded a free shot on Budaj after the netminder threw his stick at the puck when he thought Brouwer had an open goal on a semi-breakaway. Brouwer was not able to convert as Budaj closed the five-hole on Brouwer;s attempt.
The game marked the return of captain Alex Ovechkin from his three-game suspension. The Great Eight was credited with one shot on goal, two attempts blocked, two misses, three hits and two blocked shots. He looked to be trying to play playmaker early in the game, then increased his physical play as the game went on.
It wasn’t particularly pretty and the Caps were again outshot. But they need two points any way they can get them these days, and they took advantage of a team that is struggling right now worse than they are.
The Capitals come home to face the second-in-the-conference Boston Bruins in a Super Bowl Sunday matinée at 12:30 pm. The Bruins fell to Pittsburgh 2-1 earlier Saturday and are 4-5-1 in their last ten games, including a 3-0 loss to the Caps in the first game of Ovechkin’s suspension.
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.