January 18, 2021

Washington Capitals Game 23 Recap: Capitals fall 3-2 to Montreal

After a lousy all-around showing against the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals needed to bounce back, and hoped to do so against the Montreal Canadiens before setting off for Toronto on Saturday. The Capitals surged late in the game, but fell to Montreal, 3-2.

Before the end of the 1st period, the Capitals once again found themselves at a multi-goal deficit. Down 3-0 on the scoreboard, it looked like a repeat of the thrashing by the Penguins.

Marcus Johansson drew a cross-checking penalty on Alexei Emelin, giving the Caps a power play with less than two minutes to go in the first period. Alex Ovechkin scored his 18th goal of the season just before the power play expired, a wrist shot assisted by John Carlson and Troy Brouwer.

Neither team scored in the second period. Aaron Volpatti, Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer, and Brooks Laich all had quality scoring chances, but weren’t able to get anything through Canadiens goalie Peter Budaj.

The Capitals looked like a different team in the third, thanks to a late surge that led to an Ovechkin goal, a deflection from Carlson’s point shot, to make the score 3-2, but were unable to complete the comeback.

The Capitals once again struggled to stay out of the penalty box, giving Montreal five power plays. There were a few calls that were arguably questionable, but good teams are able to rebound from the disadvantage and not dwell on supposed injustices.

““We waited until about 18 or 19 minutes left in the first period to look like we had some jump,” said Brouwer.

“We spotted them a three goal lead,and things that we’re trying to avoid, turnovers on the first [goal] and taking penalties on the third [goal]. The second [goal] was a tough call, but that’s how it goes. We have to have better starts. We can’t expect to win games if we’re down 3-0.”

Michal Neuvirth, got the start over Braden Holtby, and though he was shelled throughout most of the game, was superb aside from allowing three goals in the first period.

“[Neuvirth] made some great saves in the second period, gave us a chance,” said Oates. “[The Canadiens] are up 3 and miss that open net, and then we score one at the end of the period, so that gives us a little life. He played well after that and he gave us a chance, stopped some [shots].”

Ovechkin has scored six goals in his last five games, and 19 on the season.

Washington Capitals Game 45 Recap: Les Capitals frappent Les Habitent dans la nuit d’hockey

The Washington Capitals knew during Saturday night’s matchup in Montreal against the Canadiens that the Winnipeg Jets had cut their lead in the Southeast Division to a single point by virtue of a shootout loss to the New York Islanders. What was a big enough game already — a Saturday night game in Montreal is akin to a holiday festival — became even bigger, with Tuesday’s game against Winnipeg potentially setting up to be a game to decide the division.

With all that drama in mind, the Caps came out buzzing, took control of all three zones early, and spanked the Canadiens to the tune of a 5-1 final. As has been the case for the past 30 games, the team was led by their captain, Alex Ovechkin, who tallied twice to extend his league-leading goal total to 30, and their goalie, Braden Holtby, who made 35 saves look easy in the winning effort.

Washington is now 9-1-0 in the last 10 games.

The Caps jumped all over the Canadiens in the first period with a strong forecheck. That early attack paid dividends at 4:49 when Ovechkin corralled a turnover in the high slot, turned away from the defense, faked a pass to Marcus Johansson who was on the far post, and ripped a wrist shot past beleaguered Montreal goalie Carey Price to get on the board first.

Just over a minute later, Troy Brouwer scored the first of his two goals. Mike Ribeiro (three assists) won an offensive zone faceoff to Karl Alzner at the point. Alzner found Brouwer walking off the half-boards and the veteran forward found space between two Montreal defenders. Brouwer, from the top of the left-wing faceoff circle then whipped a shot toward net that eluded Price through a maze of bodies, including the aforementioned Ribeiro and winger Martin Erat to give the Caps a 2-0 lead not even six minutes into the contest.

With the normally rowdy Centre Bell crowd taken out of the game, the Caps turned up the forecheck even tighter, making the sledding for the slumping Canadiens almost too much to bear.

The Caps did not let up in the second stanza. Brouwer got his second of the night at 3:49 of the second frame. Ribeiro won a foot race to a puck in the corner and gained control over two Canadiens defenders and slid the puck up the boards to Marcus Johansson. The young Swede had the presence to know that Brouwer was drifting through the high slot, despite having his back to the play. Johansson hit Brouwer in stride and the veteran ripped a shot past Price for his 19th goal of the season, just three off his career high.

A little later, it was the power play’s turn to light the lamp again. Mike Green found Ovechkin in his “sweet spot” at the left-wing faceoff circle. This time, instead of unleashing his standard one-timer, the captain found Nick Backstrom at the far post for a tip-in which rattled off two posts. After a brief review, the goal stood for Backstrom’s seventh of the campaign.

Ovechkin himself closed the Capitals scoring onslaught in the third period with his 30th of the season with another power play marker. They used the same play that set up the Backstrom goal, with Ribeiro hitting Green at the top of the umbrella, who then fed to Ovi at the left-wing circle. This time, the captain was selfish and ripped the shot past Price to cap the scoring and brought a close to the competitive portion of the evening.

Through the festivities, Holtby was stellar again. Montreal broke up the shutout bid a third of the way through the third period, but the contest was well out of hand by that point. The young netminder has been dominant against Canadian teams and he was no less Saturday night, showing up the favorites of his countrymen time and again.

The Caps are off until Tuesday, when they host the Jets with a three-point lead in the division. Depending on Winnipeg’s result Monday against Buffalo, a win by the Caps Tuesday could clinch the division — and the No. 3 seed that comes with it — and put the Jets playoff hopes in peril.

The Caps have been playing in “elimination mode” pretty much since the first of February, owners of a 23-10-1 record (113 point pace) since Feb. 9 after the awful 2-8-1 start. They’ve lost in regulation just once in the past four weeks and for maybe the first time in the Ovechkin era, they have earned the mantel of “team no one wants to play in the playoffs.”

The Caps still haven’t qualified for the postseason yet, but they took one step closer Saturday night, destroying a very good team on their home ice in quite possibly the most hostile territory in the league. If the Caps can take care of their own business and qualify for the playoffs, with the East as seemingly open as it is, who knows? No one has played better in the past two months.

Washington Capitals Game 40 Recap: Capitals extend win streak to five in Montreal

The Washington Capitals visited the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday night, their first trip to the Bell Centre this season, using a late-season winning streak to reach the top of the Southeast Division. They continued their heady play of late, going into one of the most hostile barns in the league and emerged a 3-2 victor for their fifth straight win.

On top of the world (for the moment), the Capitals were riding high off captain Alex Ovechkin’s return to form. Winning four games in a row, the Capitals were ready to prove they could keep pace with a non-Southeast Division team.

Ovechkin, tied for the lead league in goals (25, with Tampa Bay Lighting’s Steven Stamkos), but was still facing criticism because the majority of his goals (21), had been scored against Southeast teams, with only four goals against playoff-contending teams.

Montreal would prove a fine test for Ovechkin, who passed with flying colors. He scored his 26th goal of the season midway through the second period, taking the lead in the NHL scoring race and making another Rocket Richard Trophy look likely to be added to his collection.

Less impressive than the goal itself was Ovechkin’s  stickwork as he flew down the wing, past defenders, before he scored to tie the game at 1-1. It wasn’t a super-new move for Ovechkin, but proof that he’s growing and evolving as a player, no doubt due to being under the tutelage of head coach Adam Oates.

Defenseman Jack Hillen sent a slapper toward Canadiens goalie Carey Price that initially appeared to have been tipped in by either Jason Chimera or Eric Fehr, to put the Capitals up 2-1. Hillen was credited with the goal, but it was eventually given to Fehr, as it looked like he ever-so-slightly tipped it in from his position in the crease. Hillen and fellow defenseman Steven Olesky picked up the assists.

Hillen finally did get his first goal as a Capital, though, in the third period off a shot from the point that beat Price glove side. The Capitals went up 3-1, and Hillen had another two point night, just like that.

Goaltender Michal Neuvirth earned his second consecutive start and was solid all evening, making the saves that kept his team in the game and no doubt rewarding the trust of his coach in his ability to relieve Braden Holtby.

The Capitals held on to win, 3-2, bringing them to five consecutive wins, their longest streak of the season. They are now at 44 points, and holding on to the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

Caps in Advance: Week 25

As Alexander Ovechkin goes, so too do the Washington Capitals, and Ovechkin has been going quite nicely as of late. Ovechkin is in the midst of a five-game goal scoring streak, potting at least one goal per game and seven in total over that span. After a disappointingly slow start to the season, Washington’s captain now has a shot at 40 goals (he’s currently tied with Toronto’s Phil Kessel for 4th in the NHL in goals, with 36) and an outside chance at 70 points.

Thanks in part to Ovechkin’s scoring streak, Washington has earned points in its past four games, bookending a shootout and overtime loss with a pair of dominating wins against Western Conference foes. Now, the Caps have just six games left in their regular season and the possibility of postseason participation still very much in doubt.

For the final two weeks of the regular season, Washington will alternate home and away games against Eastern Conference opponents: three from the Northeast Division, two from the Southeast, and one from the Atlantic, in that order. Up this week is the three-spot against Northeast foes, starting off with one game that will have major playoff ramifications. [Read more…]

Caps in Advance: Week 20

There may be no more stressful time for an NHL player during the regular season than the lead in to the trade deadline, particularly when your team’s owner has already gone on the record to say that moves will be made.

Washington’s four games this week are its last before Monday afternoon’s deadline, and the next quarter of games will go a long way toward determining general manager George McPhee’s stance and activity.  Two of the Caps’ upcoming opponents, the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs, occupy the final two spots in the Eastern Conference’s playoff field.

Luckily for the Caps, Dale Hunter’s squad has performed exceedingly well against its upcoming slate of foes. Washington is a combined 9-2-0 against Ottawa, Toronto, the Carolina Hurricanes, and Montreal Canadiens, outscoring the four foes by a margin of almost 3 to 2.

In personnel news, extremely encouraging is the return of defenseman Mike Green, who skated 18 shifts for almost 15 minutes in Saturday night’s 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, his first game action in over a month and only the second full game he completed since late October.  Green’s fellow Young Gun Nicklas Backstrom remains out indefinitely with a concussion, but the return of the high-scoring blueliner adds even more punch to a defensive corps that already boasts two of the top 20 goal scorers in the NHL: Dennis Wideman (T-4th, 10 goals) and John Carlson (T-17th, 7 goals). [Read more…]

Washington Capitals’ next six games may determine playoff fate

The two weeks leading up to the NHL trade deadline may be the most closely-watched stretch of regular season games in the NHL season, as teams jockey for position in the playoff race, front office staffs assess the health of their rosters and consider trade options, and general managers ask their coaches to showcase potential trade bait for any and all suitors.

In the nation’s capital, the disappointing Washington Capitals currently sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference with 61 points and have six games remaining before the 3 p.m. deadline on Monday, February 27.

Of those six games, three are against the three teams immediately above the Caps in the standings: the Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators, and Toronto Maple Leafs.  All three of those games are on the road, two are in Canada, and one – a visit to Toronto in both teams’ last game before the trading deadline – on national television on Hockey Night in Canada. [Read more…]

GAME 51 RE-CAP: Caps make Bell Centre home away from home

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. [Read more…]

Caps in Advance: Week 17

Coming out of the All-Star Game break, the Washington Capitals find themselves in an unlikely place in the standings: 1st in the Southeast Division, and 3rd in the Eastern Conference.

The Caps are only 6-4-1 in the month of January, but a steady decline by the Florida Panthers, who led the Southeast for much of the season, has allowed the Caps to climb into a four-way tie in the Eastern Conference with Florida, the New Jersey Devils, and Toronto Maple Leafs with 55 points.  By virtue of a tiebreaker over Florida, Washington sits atop the Southeast and holds the automatic playoff berth.

Alexander Ovechkin will miss the first two games of the week, on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, while serving the remainder of his suspension for a high hit on Pittsburgh’s Zbynek Michalek on January 22.  In the Capitals’ only game last week, a Tuesday meeting with the Boston Bruins, youthful Mathieu Perreault took over Ovechkin’s goal-scoring mantle with his first career hat trick, but in the long-term Washington will need their captain to stay on the ice as much as possible to contend for a playoff spot.

From well-rested to well-traveled, Washington has two back-to-backs this week, the first a pair of games on the road in Florida, and then two early afternoon games on the weekend, first in Montreal and then at home against the aforementioned Bruins. [Read more…]

GAME 45 RE-CAP: Neuvirth shuts out punchless Habs 3-0

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.

Caps in Advance: Week 15

Another week, another quartet of games for the Washington Capitals.  Alex Ovechkin and company hope to keep the good mojo flowing from last week, where they won their last three in a row (although not always playing their best).  The opportunities are there, considering the Caps take on three of the four worst teams in the Eastern Conference.

Despite earning three wins to close the week, Washington the week with an even goal ratio, having lost 5-2 to the Kings on Monday before reeling off a trio of one-goal wins: a 1-0 thriller over Pittsburgh, followed by a 4-3 victory over Tampa Bay in which the Caps struggled to put the visitors away late, and a sloppy 2-1 win over the Hurricanes where Carolina was clearly the better team.

Individually, Troy Brouwer had an outstanding week, scoring three goals against the Lightning and enabling the fourth, while Ovechkin and Dennis Wideman celebrated being named to the All-Star Game.

Tomas Vokoun has now started nine straight games for Washington, with a 7-2-0 record in that span.  The Czech goalie has cemented himself as the Capitals #1 goalie, at least for the time being, and figures to continue to earn beaucoup playing time in this busy week.
[Read more…]

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