The Washington Capitals needed a game like this. The Montreal Canadiens were the perfect tonic.
The Caps broke a three-game losing streak and continued their domination of the once-proud franchise, beating Les Habitants 4-1, in a game that really wasn’t even as close as the score would seem to indicate. It’s the fourth time the Caps have defeated Montreal this season, and first time they’ve allowed a goal.
The Caps got off on the right foot by getting on the board early, as Mathieu Perreault opened the scoring less than seven minutes in the first period, backhanding a long pass from Jason Chimera past goalie Carey Price (20 saves). It was a slow-developing play, as the puck moved slowly through the slot but no Canadiens player, including Price, were very quick to make a play on the puck.
“It was kind of a weird play,” Perreault said. “It seemed like, almost, the whistle was blown cause Price kind of seemed to stop playing; their “D” stopped playing, it just slowly glided to me and I just tapped it in. I was like, ‘What’s going on? Is the whistle blown or something?’ I’ll take it.”
Perreault, a Montreal native, seems to always come up big against his hometown team. “Every time I play them I get that little extra spark, extra energy. The puck seems to find me when I get around the net.”
Jason Chimera stuffed a breakaway under Price for the second goal of the evening a little less than mid-way through the second period. The referee signaled goal right away, but the play was reviewed and the call on the ice was upheld. It was Chimera’s 16th goal of the season, one off his career high. Alexander Semin assisted on the play, and now has 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) in his last 29 games.
Reminiscent of the high-flying teams of two years past, just 16 second later the Caps struck again, putting this one away for all intents and purposes.
Alex Ovechkin completed a tic-tac-toe play with Marcus Johansson and Dmitry Orlov, firing a laser one-timer past Price for an insurmountable three-goal lead and his 25th of the campaign. Washington was buoyed by the return of their captain after missing the previous game with a lower-body injury. The Russian Machine skated 17:43 with three shots on goal and was credited with two hits and seemed to play better as the game wore on.
Ovechkin spoke of the importance of getting back in the win column after three straight road losses. “Every point is an important point. Everybody understands that and everybody concentrated on the game.”
Joel Ward added an empty net goal to close the scoring. It was his first tally since Jan. 7 at San Jose.
Michal Neuvirth was given the start after hs played solidly in Ottawa in relief of Tomas Vokoun in the 5-2 loss Wednesday night. The young Czech, playing in front of his parents, recorded 30 saves in the winning effort.
Coach Dale Hunter praised the goalie’s efforts. “He was solid. He was real solid. He didn’t give up many rebounds and I thought the “D” did a good job in front of him, not giving them any scoring chances either.”
The only shot that got behind Neuvirth was off the stick of Rene Bouque, who earlier this season while still a member of the Calgary Flames, delivered a vicious, intentional elbow to the jaw of Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. Bourque received a five-game suspension and was then traded to Montreal; while Backstrom has yet to even practice with his team, much less return to the lineup.
Defenseman Mike Green might have exacted a little revenge against the agitating forward though. Near the end of the second period (and with a 3-0 lead), Bouque was charging hard to the Caps net, and Green directed him — with a high-stick — into the goal post and Bourque went down in a heap. The two exchanged words after the play, but there was no altercation. Green happily took his punishment, a two-minute minor.
Make no mistake about it, the Capitals really needed this win. They were reeling, losing three of four on the recent road trip, but still within striking distance of first place in the division and the eighth seed in the playoffs. Entering play Saturday, the now find themselves two points behind Winnipeg in the division race and one point behind Florida for the eighth seed, tied with Saturday night’s opponent, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Caps and the Leafs haven’t really played too many important games in their history, but Saturday night’s tilt is of utmost importance for both clubs in 2012. With both teams the Caps are trying to catch in action as well, they need to put away every point they can. It will be interesting to see if these Capitals can take the momentum from Friday night’s win and translate that to the road, where they are 10-18-3 this season.
It’s also the last game for the Caps before Monday’s NHL trade deadline. It’s one more opportunity for GM George McPhee to decide it he’s a buyer or seller. And if he is a buyer, it’s another opportunity to evaluate this team and decide what pieces he thinks he needs to help them compete down the stretch and in the playoffs, if they make it that far.
CAPS NOTES: Forward Mike Knuble was a healthy scratch for the fourth time this month. He joined defensemen John Erskine and Roman Hamrlik in the press box.
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.