WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 24: Karl Alzner #27 and Michal Neuvirth #30 of the Washington Capitals celebrate after a win over the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 at Verizon Center on February 24, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
It's not an understatement to say the Caps have been a disappointing team in recent weeks - all year, really, but particularly of late. Over the last three games the Caps have looked discombobulated, getting stomped by two division rivals who refuse to die and a conference rival who at the very least should be their equal.
Tonight found the Caps back on friendly turf, a brief safe haven before returning to the hell of the road - a chance to gain some of the ground they've lost against a team they've beaten a few times before, while also perhaps creating some pre-travel momentum.
Thankfully they did just that, with a strong start (including the first time they've opened the scoring in almost two weeks), a flurry of timely goals in the second (including the captain's first goal in four games) and a smidgen of good team defense (including a very solid bounceback performance by Michal Neuvirth).
Ten more notes on the game:
- How about Neuvirth tonight, stepping up when the team needed him to do so and proving to be resilient after a few, shall we say mediocre, outings. Tonight he turned aside thirty of the thirty-one shots he faced (although he did allow a Montreal Canadien to score on the Caps for the first time in almost a year...for shame, Neuvy, for shame) and provided a strong backbone on the penalty kill as well.
- After a few years of round trips to Hershey and legitimate questions about consistency, Mathieu Perreault has really used the last few months to reward the team for having had patience with him. He's not going to replace Nicklas Backstrom any time soon but what he has done is found ways to contribute, becoming a solid net presence - not in the vein of a Mike Knuble or a Brooks Laich, the guys who plant their big bodies in front of the goalie, but as a scrappy, sneaky, opportunistic little bugger who can score with his tooth. And he was at it again tonight, tallying the all-important opening goal by going to the net and making a nice back door timing play.
- Besides setting up that timing play, Jason Chimera was able to cash in on a little luck of his own tonight, squeaking one under a sliding Carey Price to enhance the Caps lead to two and pick up his sixteenth goal of the season - one shy of his career high.
- Say what you will about the Caps' play lately (and I could say a lot, including several words that aren't appropriate here) but along with the terrible passing, the sieve-like goaltending and the hapless defense of late the Caps have also had some rotten luck. It's why both aforementioned goals were so nice - so many times the guy open at the side of the net whiffs on the rebound, the opponent's goalie smothers the puck juuust before it crosses the goal line. They say you make your own luck - tonight the Caps did just that.
- Having the lead has been something of a novelty for this Caps team; you could count on your fingers just how many minutes of the most recent road trip the Caps led their opponent. So to take the lead, to do so early on and to stop that string of horrific starts before it got any longer... huge, huge moment for this team.
- Another recent area of concern: secondary scoring, which has been minimal at best and has largely centered around the defense taking matters into their own hands. Tonight we finally saw a bit of the rest of the team stepping up, with Perreault and Chimera getting on the board before anyone named Alex could score and then Joel Ward snapping a lengthy 21-game goalless drought with the clinching empty-netter. Declaring that this team has four scoring lines after this outing may be a bit hyperbolic (...just a bit) but any time you get scoring from the lunchpail guys, it's a good thing.
- But naturally there had to be some Alex/Alex action, right? Right. It was, after all, Alexander Semin's pass that set up Chimera's laser of a goal. Not to be outdone, Alex Ovechkin made his return to the lineup after missing a game and some practice time with a lower-body injury - and while he didn't seem to have his usual speed up the ice he did show us all (including Carey Price) that his shot from just inside the blue line is still good.
- Not everything was a bowl of sunshine and daisies tonight, of course. One of the key areas of concern for the Caps on the road has been their lackluster special teams play, but at home it hasn't been a problem... so naturally the power play was powerless in this one, failing to connect despite six different power plays (albeit a few abbreviated ones) and giving up a shorthanded goal to boot. That the penalty kill was perfect is a silver lining, but that was somewhat helped by the fact that Montreal kept taking penalties to negate their own power play. Hey, thanks, guys!
- One of those shorthanded occasions came about after Mike Green essentially lassoed a certain Montreal player, sending him sailing into the net behind Price. Now, kids, penalties are generally a bad thing and should be avoided... but considering the Montreal player in question was the lovely and charming Rene Bourque? Next time, Mike, put him into the stands.
- There have been many areas in which Marcus Johansson has needed to improve this season. One of his strong suits, however, is his ability to carry the puck through neutral and make the perfectly placed drop pass. Not only did that exact type of play set up Ovechkin's goal tonight, it also showed how much more effective Alex can be when he's not asked to carry the puck through neutral and can instead focus on finding space and being creative. Strange, no?