Tom Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had two goals and Nicklas Backstrom notched four assists to lead the Washington Capitals to a 6-4 victory over the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
Philipp Grubauer made 17 saves in the win, a few of which came early in this one when the outcome was still in doubt.
The Caps triumph improves their record to 44-24-7 (95 points) with seven games remaining. Washington leads second place Pittsburgh by five points as they move closer to their third straight Metropolitan Division title.
Below are my thoughts and analysis on the Capitals lone trip to Montreal this season.
Starting Over – Once again the Caps had a poor start to the game and Alex Galchenyuk took advantage of some poor defensive corner work by the Caps to score 8:35 into this affair. Shortly thereafter it appeared that the Habs were up a pair of goals following a Washington giveaway, but Coach Barry Trotz challenged for offside on the Canadiens zone entry. The tally was correctly waved off allowing the Caps to escape more poor defensive zone play.
Tongue Lashing – Simply put, the Capitals we’re playing lousy and if not for their video coaches, they’d have been in a big early hole. Trotz was visibly ticked at his team and he ripped into them on the bench.
Turning Point– The overturned goal and wake up call got the Caps going and when Logan Shaw was boxed for high sticking Dmitry Orlov, Kuznetsov scored 36 seconds later on the power play with a great shot that beat Carey Price (24 saves) low, glove side. It was clear the tally energized Washington while the young Habs players were deflated.
Castaway – This has been a breakout season for restricted free agent Wilson and he was the beneficiary of two great passes by Backstrom in scoring his 12th and 13th goals of the season in the second half of period one. Wilson nearly hit the empty net late in regulation to earn his 1st hat trick, but he shot wide. For the game, Willy had 2 goals, five shot attempts, two hits, and was +2 in 16:55. He continues to be a dominant force on the ice with his skating and physicality. Both elements are key to succeeding in the post season.
Return of the Decider – Kuznetsov returned after missing three contests and he played a big role in the win, along with Backstrom. When those two are on their respective games, it forces the other team to pick their poison on which Caps line to focus on. #92’s power play shot caught Price by surprise and when Kuzy is unpredictable from a pass vs. shoot sense, he’s very hard to defend. Evgeny took four shots and found the back of the twine twice in 18:06 of action.
Beast Mode – Backstrom was the best Cap on the ice and three of his four helpers were primary assists. Before he set up Wilson’s first tally, he won a board battle behind the Habs net. There aren’t many centers better than #19 at winning those one on one situations. His pass to Willy for the 3rd goal only solidifies the theory that he has eyes in the back of his head.
Guaranteed Win Night – When Jay Beagle scores a goal, it’s pretty much an automatic that Washington will win the game. I’ll check my memory against the statistics on that later. #83 tipped home an Orlov shot for his seventh goal of the campaign after Alex Chiasson won a puck battle. #39 earned the second assist on the goal 4:52 into the middle frame that really put Montreal behind the eight ball. Beagle, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer, now has 22 points this year. He was once again a terror from the face off dot going 14-4 on draws. Per Caps PR, Washington is now 41-1-5 when Jay scores a goal.
Baby Got Back – T.J. Oshie’s play has really picked up in recent weeks and the Osh Babe notched his 17th goal of the season when Jakub Jerabek’s shot hit #77 in the leg and went in past Carey Price to make it 6-2 in period three. Oshie, who is so important to this team because of his ability to win the individual puck battles, now has five goals in his last six games. T.J., who fought the injury bug from December until late February, is peaking his game at the right time.
Spring Cleaning – Washington once again started a contest slowly and a big part of the reason is their play in their own end. They came out turning too many pucks over and they weren’t hard enough on their opponents, either. If the Caps are going to go far this spring, they’ll need to come out with more energy and focus. It’s the part of their game that must be cleaned up the most. Adding Michal Kempny and Jerabek on the back end has helped towards stabilizing things, but the defensive zone is still a work in progress and the wingers need to do their part to win wall battles so that the Capitals can exit the zone with speed in transition.
The End – Overall, this was not a thorough game by the Caps. They were very loose in their own zone at the start and end of this tilt. They were aided by a goal reversal and by the fact that Montreal has three young players on the blue line (h/t @VogsCaps). Washington needs to get the sloppiness out of their outings and it starts with effort and focus. Yes, they were triumphant, but these last seven games will be about the process. The Capitals got their business done by grabbing two points, but at this point, they need to start playing the right way.
Notes: Charles Hudon had two goals for Montreal…Final shots on goal were 30-21 for Washington. Shot attempts favored the Caps, 53-47…the Capitals won the face off battle, 39-29…Alex Ovechkin had zero points in 19:38 of action. He did have nine shot attempts. Bad zebra Marc Joannette called him for slashing Karl Alzner late in the game and the Habs scored while the Gr8 was in the box..the third line had a rough night. Jakub Vrana was -3 while Brett Connolly and Lars Eller were both -2. Connolly had no shot attempts and #13 had only one. Those two guys have to be harder on pucks and not totally rely on their skating and shooting ability…the Capitals were 2 for 3 on the power play and penalty kill…John Carlson had two assists and six shots on goal in 21:04 of ice time…Pheonix Copley backed up Grubauer since Braden Holtby is still nicked up. The Holtbeast did take shots during the Saturday morning pre game skate…the Caps signed NCAA forward Shane Gersich (North Dakota), a 5th round draft choice in 2014, on Friday and sent Travis Boyd down to Hershey due to salary cap issues.