Heading into Saturday afternoon’s game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre, the Washington Capitals were 31-1-5 in franchise history when Jay Beagle scores a goal and 8-0 this season (thanks Adam Miller).
Just 3:06 into the matinee, #83 sniped one by Carey Price after a sweet feed from Daniel Winnik following a strong play by Tom Wilson in the neutral zone to keep the play onside.
So you know how this one turns out, right? It would be a Caps victory in Quebec.
However, it wasn’t easy.
After Beagle’s tally there was a lengthy delay (about 11 minutes) due to a hole in the bottom of the boards behind Braden Holtby (20 saves). Montreal took advantage of that Super Bowl 47 like stoppage to right their ship and tie the game up at one less than three minutes after play resumed. Nate Schmidt tried an ill advised centering pass on the right wing boards in his own zone and that allowed Alexander Radulov to snipe one to get the Habs back in the game. Schmidt needed to either eat the puck along the boards there until he could get help or reverse the play by putting the disc along the boards behind his own cage.
The Caps would then settle down and they began carrying the play again with lots of offensive zone pressure. Washington’s third line of Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, and Andre Burakovsky was especially good. When the Caps turned the puck over or Montreal took a hold of it, Washington ferociously back checked and reclaimed the biscuit. They did an excellent job in the first two frames of going up and down the ice in five man units and that prevented the very fast Habs squad from turning this game into a track meet.
The two way effort paid off midway through the middle frame. Eller sprung Connolly up the ice on a three on two with Burakovsky and Schmidt. #88 then atoned for his previous mistake by making a very smart play as he crossed the blue line with speed – he kept driving to the net. By doing that he took the Habs defensemen with him and that opened up a passing lane for #10, who laid a sweet cross ice feed to #65 and he snapped it short side, top shelf by Price for a 2-1 lead.
Washington would continue pressing the play in period two and they had several good looks. Alex Ovechkin hit the post and was also denied in tight by #31. Justin Williams had a great shot from the slot, but he didn’t elevate the puck and Price got his pad on it. After 40 minutes, shots on goal were 24-12 for the Caps and 41-26 in terms of shot attempts. In short, they were playing a super road game to that point.
In the third period, they did a good job of keeping Montreal to the outside early in the frame and when Radulov took a hooking penalty on the Gr8, the Caps cashed in on the power play. With the Habs overplaying the pass to Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom alertly chose to fire a shot from the middle of the ice up high and with Price leaning right, the puck eluded him to give Washington a 3-1 lead with 14:44 to go.
Things then got interesting. Montreal really put the pressure on and at 7:49 of period three Max Pacioretty cut the lead to one when they totally outworked the Caps fourth line for a goal. The game would go back and forth with teams trading some chances and when the Caps received a power play with 5:46 to go, they looked to close this one out. However, the Caps made a big offensive zone turnover and Torrey Mitchell received a shorthanded breakaway. As he was about to shoot, the puck bounced on him a bit, so he didn’t get all of the rubber, but the Holtbeast was already in good position and he made a huge stop. Braden would make a few more quality saves down the stretch and the Capitals did a decent job of not allowing the Habs to penetrate the paint until the final horn sounded.
When it was all said and done, the Capitals would head out of the hallowed hockey city with a 3-2 victory to improve to 35-11-6 (76 points) on the season.
This was a game that I was not worried about for Washington from a motivational standpoint. Every NHL player LOVES to play in Montreal. It is a great city and has a lot of hockey history. Simply put, if you can’t get up to play there, you don’t have a pulse.
As I routinely write, when the Caps are motivated, they are hard to beat because of their skill, depth, and goaltending. Montreal gets paid to play, too, and they are fighting for their division title, so the Habs really brought it, especially late. Both Price and Holtby put on net minding clinics and it is easy to see why they are the best two goalies in the NHL.
This was a fun hockey game to watch and Washington benefitted from winning the special teams battle going 1 for 4 with the man advantage and stopping all three Habs power plays.
Both teams could’ve won this affair, although I thought the Caps were the better team for the majority of the tilt, until they earned the two goal lead. They then hung on to win and as the stats dictate, when Beagle scores a goal, it’s pretty much points in the bank for Washington.
Notes: The Caps won the shot attempt battle, 51-49. Ovechkin and Beagle each had five shots on net. This was by far #83’s best outing since he went down with a virus just before the all star break. “Flip Phone” Beags seemed to finally have his legs back…John Carlson took his first penalty of the season, but he played solidly and led the Caps in ice time with 24:16…Holtby is now 11-0-0 in his last 13 starts…the Caps won the face off battle, 28-25. All Star Backstrom was 15-4 and Beagle was 9-6…Burakovsky and Beagle now both have 11 goals on the season. #65 and that whole line has been a huge difference maker for Coach Barry Trotz’ club….the Caps will face the Los Angeles Kings at noon on Super Bowl Sunday at the Verizon Center on NBC. LA defeated the Flyers on Saturday, 1-0, in overtime….the Kings are coming in hot, they’ve won five in a row as they make their way to DC. Expect to see Philipp Grubauer between the pipes for the Caps.