Even a pair of Alex Ovechkin goals wasn’t enough to dig the Washington Capitals out of the hole they created in the first period. In an opening eerily reminiscent of their Wednesday night effort, the Caps allowed several goals in a short space of time.
Travis Moen opened scoring for the Montreal Canadiens, followed by a David Desharnais tip-in. The Habs demonstrated why they have the league’s second-best power play as Danny Briere notched a power play goal to give his new team a stranglehold of a lead. However, Briere’s wrist shot would be the last Montreal goal of the evening–but it would be enough for the Habs to return home with two points.
Late in the first, Alexei Emelin’s cross check resulted in a Capitals power play, which unsurprisingly ended with Ovechkin laying claim to his eighteenth goal of the season. John Carlson received credit for the primary assist, which set Ovechkin up to flick the puck past Peter Budaj’s glove side. The goal offered temporary relief for the Caps, who played a mostly uneventful second period, at least for the Canadiens.
The Capitals were outshot by the opposition 14-3 in the second, a far cry from the 13 shots each team fired in the first. The absence of a power play didn’t do them any favors, either, as the period’s sole penalty was a holding call on Brooks Laich with exactly two minutes remaining. Washington’s penalty kill held up once again, though this wasn’t the last time it would be tested.
The Caps went into the third period knowing it was do or die. However, they didn’t get off to the surging start they’d hoped for, as Nicklas Backstrom was sent to the box for holding within the first six minutes. The two minutes passed without event, as did Ovechkin’s turn three minutes later.
However, the captain would light the lamp at 12:27 in the third. Ovechkin’s nineteenth goal thus far this season wasn’t as pretty as his first of the evening, but it instantly reenergized the building (which played host to none other than Wayne Gretzky.) Blueliner Carlson’s blast turned into a greasy deflection by Ovechkin. Budaj was helpless amid the chaos surrounding the net, and the puck slid in, reducing Montreal’s lead to a single goal.
Washington would muster two more shots in the final minutes of the game, which came from a now-healthy Mike Green and winger-turned-temporary center Martin Erat. The latter continued to experience little success on the second line alongside Laich and Troy Brouwer, as the trio was held scoreless yet again.
Ultimately, the contest came to a close in the Habs’ favor. Despite increased pressure in the offensive zone, the Capitals couldn’t muster enough clean passes to create scoring chances. The effort they eventually exerted was admirable, but it came too late. There were several excruciatingly close chances to score on Budaj, who posted a .926 save percentage for the evening. Michal Neuvirth was less successful, although he allowed three goals on thirty-one shots–good for .903. He returned to the Caps’ bench for the last 90 seconds of the game, but even with the extra attacker, his team was unable to send the game into overtime.
The woes the Capitals experienced were nothing new–once again, weak starts doomed them to the cruel struggle of coming from behind. Let’s hope they can learn from tonight’s near-disaster when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs tomorrow night.