The Capitals tried darn hard to make last night’s game bigger than the sub-story of Alexander Ovechkin being given the captaincy. They almost succeeded.
And as the Capitals newly minted captain, Alex set the tone early with a big hit on Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty in his first shift on the ice.
It would be a trend we would see again-and-again in tonight’s game as Ovechkin would smother Montreal to the tune of six hits. The pain for the opposition was not limited to times when Alex was the aggressor, as in the first period, Canadiens defenseman Benot Pouliot would square his shoulders up for a hit on Ovechkin in the corner. Alex however was ready, squaring his shoulders as well and forcing Benoit backwards and onto the ice, with the same intensity that he had come at him.
However, one thing Alex would not do on this night is score a goal or even record a point. (only his eighth time this season that would happen) Have no fear though Caps fans, it just wouldn’t be necessary. “They’ve got some other ammunition,” said Canadiens coach Jacques Martin after the game, correctly pointing out the the Caps had a winning record when Ovechkin was gone, and having just watched Tomas Fleischmann (1 goal, 1 assist in his first game this season at center) and Alexander Semin (2 goals) deliver dominating performances in a Capitals 4-2 victory.
Things looked good from the start as the Capitals would limit the Canadiens to just three shots in the first period and get a couple decent chances of their own.
Ovechkin moving down the left side would burst up the ice and then wait for Mike Green to catch up, passing the puck to him in a clearing down the middle of Montreal’s zone that was ignored by the Canadiens. This gave Mike all the time in the world to load up on a slap shot, but Canadiens goaltender, Carey Price would come out of his net and do the full splits in making a glove save. Price’s save was equally impressive on a Brendan Morrison shot as Semin would sweep in and out of traffic and skate away from the net before passing to Morrison streaking toward the crease untoched. Price however would make the pad save from in close and keep the score tied at zero at the end of one.
As the second period began with Jaroslav Spacek being called for hooking 3:16 into the period, Price would continue to offer up a steady resistance, making multiple saves in close and on redirected pucks.
Fleischmann would however break the streak, taking the puck from the left boards all the way to the net and poking it buy Price to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead in the waning moments of the power play of Spacek’s penalty.
Up 1-0, the Capitals would continue to attack Price at a steady pace, but the twenty-two year old goaltender held his ground. And while their attack up to this point had not been strong, Montreal would come back to tie the game as John Erskine would send the puck waywardly off the left boards and directly to Josh Gorges who would hold the puck in on the left blue line who slapped the puck off Flesichmann’s skate and past a surprised Michal Neuvirth to tie the game at with 5:57 left in the second.
It could have been a momentum changing goal, as the Capitals had thoroughly outplayed the Canadiens up to this point and yet still found the game tied. That would quickly change however as Washington would get a fluky goal of their own as a crossing feed from Eric Fehr on the left to Flesichmann near Price’s crease would go off the skate of Hal Gill and into the back of the net to give Eric his tenth goal of the year. Hmm, two goals off the oppositions skate in less than two minutes? You don’t see that very often.
And as the Capitals were snatching momentum away from Montreal, on their next shift they would help to bury them.
Tom Poti moving down into the Canadiens zone would quickly pass to Semin who skating on the right, fired it between the pads and past Price to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead with 3:49 left in the second.
The goal would not come however without some extracurricular activity, and not the type you get credit for as directly after his shot, Hal Gill would check Semin onto the ice, leading to a massive scrum near the boards. The teams would get involved in another ruckus with thirty seconds left in the second as the Capitals and Canadiens squared off behind Neuvirth’s net, with only Montreal forward Maxim Lapierre being called for roughing.
Don’t mistake the last two examples as any indicator of Montreal being the physical aggresor last night. If anything, the late second period frustration may have come on account of the fact that the Capitals simply dominated the game up to that point in terms of shots, goals, and most definetly in hits. Outside of Ovechkin, Green and Brooks Laich finished the game with four hits, and Erskine, David Steckel and Jason Chimera (who did little to anything else) finished the game with three hits as Washington outhit Montreal by a overwhelming 30-13 ammount. “When you’re working hard that physical play is a byproduct,” said Mike Knuble afterwards.
After a three game losing streak in which Washington did not always work hard, tonight was a nice reversion back to Capitals hockey, as the Caps masterfully killed off a Knuble committed penalty late in the third with the score 3-2, to help Ovechkin become a winner in his debut as captain.
Capitals notes: Many players spoke about how confident they were in Ovechkin’s ability to have the aptitude and leadership necessary to be captain. However with greater responsibility, perhaps comes a lighter wallet, a fact of life Knuble elluded to when joking about some of Alex’s new off the ice duties. “The input we have here is that he (Ovechkin) buys the team dinner. We’re trying to pick the restaurant here when we go on the road,” said Knuble who indicated that he was angling for a steak place. Get that tip calculator ready Alex!
We’d be remiss if we didn’t give you the video link for the World Junior Championships,game-winning goal by Capitals prospect John Carlson, whose tally lifted the United States to a 6-5 overtime win over Canada. Caps fans, especially those cheering “USA! USA! USA!” throughout last nights game (the Junior score was shown on the Capitals scoreboard at Verizon) should be very happy today, as should we all.
For more info: Oh, and if that’s not enough news for you, it’s been reported that David Steckel has signed an extension with Washington.