Caps Win 9th Straight, Beat Montreal, 4-2

March 15, 2011 | Ed Frankovic

Aint no Stopping us Now

We’re on the Move

Aint no Stopping us Now

We’ve got the Groove

On a night when logic dictated that the Washington Capitals eight game winning streak just might come to an end in Montreal given that second line center Jason Arnott was going to be joining Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green on the injured list, the Caps kept their groove going with a solid and impressive 4-2 victory over the Canadiens. Marcus Johansson continued his stellar play and tallied twice, including the eventual game winner, while Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble also scored for Washington to gain a victory in the very tough Bell Centre. Braden Holtby, who was named the NHL’s first star of the week on Monday, overcame a terrible early giveaway that led to the Habs first goal to stop 24 of the next 25 shots against him for his fifth straight win and the 21 year old rookie is 9-2-2 this season. The Caps ninth straight win runs their record to 41-20-10 (92 points) and puts their lead in the Southeast Division back at five points over the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have a game in hand.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a super Capitals performance in the first outing of a very difficult six game road trip:

- I’ve been talking about MJ90 taking his game to a higher level since the victory in Florida a week ago Sunday. Johansson, who has been steadily improving all season, performed at an elite level for the sixth straight game in my book. The 20 year old Swede looks like a 10 year vet on the ice right now and this club really needs it with both Backstrom (day to day) and now Arnott (week to week) out at center. Normally a young kid would likely succumb to the pressure of having to help carry this team but that has not been the case with Marcus. Instead of looking worn out in his first season in North America, he is actually getting stronger and he is not being knocked off the puck below the circles like he was earlier in the season. Johansson’s first goal was on a gift bounce off of the boards into an empty net but his second came from being in the proper position on the ice. MJ90 came down the slot late because he was being defensively responsible and took an Alexander Ovechkin (1 assist in 21:44 of ice time) pass on his backhand and put it by Carey Price (37 saves) 6:43 into the final frame. On the night the 20 year old rookie played 17:03 and took four shots on net.

- Price was great for Montreal and if not for him this game would have been over in the second period. The Caps dominated the play and had 35 shots on goal through two periods, many of which were in close and of the quality variety. Unlike last season’s playoffs, when Washington became more frustrated as the series went on, the Capitals would not be denied on this evening and they continued to crash the net. The Habs net minder could not be faulted on any of the tallies against him and he also appeared to get a gift when an apparent goal by Matt Hendricks in period one was wiped out due to what must have been an early whistle.

- On the Caps side of the house, the dynamic duo of blue liners, John Carlson and Karl Alzner, were phenomenal. Both guys were +2 on the night and Alzner’s perfect pass to Laich in the neutral zone set up #21′s goal in which he went around big Hal Gill like he was an orange road cone. #27 and #74 were flat out dominant in this contest and they logged 18:53 and 20:04, respectively. Alzner’s ability to hit players in stride with the puck as they go up the ice is often overlooked. He is a terrific puck moving defenseman who is almost always in the right place.

- Laich started this contest between Ovechkin and Alexander Semin but Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau switched it up when Eric Fehr went down due to an upper body injury (h/t @kcarrera of The Washington Post). #16 played only 5:16 of ice time and after that Johansson centered Ovechkin and Knuble while Laich played with Marco Sturm and Semin. It wasn’t one of Semin’s best games of the season, in fact, Sasha was lazy in his back pressure on the second Montreal goal by Andrei Kostitsyn. In addition, the Caps failed to get off a shot on net when he and the Great #8 had a 2 on 1 chance in period two. Semin was simply “too cute” for the first 40 minutes but in the final stanza he simplified his game and was very solid defensively once the Caps got a one goal lead. As for Sturm, he struggled for most of the game taking two minor penalties, but he delivered when he came out of the box with four mintues left and saucered a perfect pass to Knuble for the fourth goal and the nail in the coffin on Price and the Habs.

- On special teams, the Capitals penalty kill was a perfect three for three while the power play went 2 for 5. So that thing is fixed, right? Not so fast, the two PPGs were the MJ90 open net fluke bounce and the second was when Sturm came out of the box for a two on one with the Habs pressing late. In fact, without Arnott, the power play struggled and Washington wasted an 85 second five on three advantage late in the opening frame (7 seconds of it carried into period two). Too much passing and not enough shots was the story on that sequence (I know, you’ve heard that before).

- Overall, this was a superb way to come out and set the tone on a long road trip without some big guns in the lineup. With a flight to Detroit on Tuesday night and a lengthy stop likely clearing customs, the Capitals just might not have much left in the tank for the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night at “The Joe” at 7:30pm. So getting this win was so key for this club and right now the song must continue for another day, since the winning streak could come to a halt in Motown.

Aint No Stopping Us Now

We’re on the Move

Aint no Stopping us Now

We’ve got the Groove

Notes: Both Jeff Halpern (5:56 of ice time) and Tomas Plekenac (logged 11:03) left the game for Montreal early due to injuries…Tyler Sloan played on defense tonight with John Erskine out due to a cold (again h/t @kcarrera). #89 had two giveaways and took a penalty in 14:57 of ice time…the Caps won the face-off battle, 30-27, thanks to Boyd Gordon winning 12 of 16 draws (Dave Steckel who?)…with Arnott out, Jay Beagle returned after missing several games due to injury and he played 9:27 and had 3 hits (tied for second on the team to Ovechkin’s 4)…Matt Bradley fought Paul Mara just 1:48 into the contest…I expect Michal Neuvirth to get the start in goal for Washington on Wednesday in Detroit and he will have a tough task against Pavel Datsyuk and company.

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