The Caps may lead the Southeast Division, but the knock on the team in recent days - and on their captain - was that they were feeding solely on division opponents to get there. With just one regulation win, one overtime win and two via the shootout over playoff-bound teams, tonight was a chance for the Caps to prove that they could match up with some of the East’s best, as well.
And while they may not have dominated in every sense of the word, the Caps went into a very tough building, played a gritty road game, got timely scoring and held on to get the two points they so badly need. One test down - now grab those points and run.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Early on in this one it was all Caps, as they tested the Montreal defense and Carey Price right from the start. Through three minutes they already had six shots on goal to Montreal’s zero, including several in close that required Price to make an all-star save or three. They weren’t able to cash in but it was one of their better road starts to be sure.
- It didn’t last, of course, as after about six or seven minutes of being hemmed into their own zone the Canadiens woke up and started tilting the rink back the other way. And it would be the Habs getting on the board first, as the Caps completely forgot about Lars Eller and left him alone in front of the net. A nice feed from Brandon Prust along the wall to Eller parked in the crease and just like that it was 1-0 Montreal.
- That goal, via Mike Vogel, ended a Caps shutout streak in Montreal that was fairly impressive. It spanned over two years, with three goalies pitching three shutouts over 232 mins, 16 seconds. Amazing.
- The Habs would maintain that 1-0 lead into the second period... that is, until Alex Ovechkin made sure to remind all of Canada just how great he can be. Lately it seems like every night he's pulling out some new move (and learning how to do so without carrying the puck in himself), and tonight was no different, as he made a ridiculous play to get around - and basically undress - Michael Ryder. Once open, there was only one thing to do: fire at will.
- Apparently when there is one gorgeous goal, the universe has to balance out a bit - so the Caps followed up that beauty of a goal with one of the ugliest you’ll ever see. It started as a simple point shot from Jack Hillen that bounced off of at least fifteen body parts of various Habs (and apparently Eric Fehr, who got credit for it) before blooping over Price's head. But hey, secondary scoring!
- As the top line heats up and the third line begins to generate points of their own, that second line is becoming a bit more troublesome as once again they were just a black hole of possession. Of course, it's stunning that moving Aaron Volpatti up to replace a demoted Wojtek Wolski didn't fix the problem... who had three minutes left in the first as the time of demotion for WW?
- When Michal Neuvirth was announced as tonight's starter there were certainly a few skeptics out there (despite his great career numbers at Le Centre Bell). Twenty-seven saves later, are we all okay with the move? Yes? Good. Neuvirth was a huge part of why the Caps managed to escape Montreal with a regulation win and an important two points, as he made big save after big save - some great, others lucky, all necessary - to keep the team in it. Worth noting that neither goal was really on him, either.
- In recent games the Caps have been depending a bit on their power play while living and dying with a pretty awful penalty kill. Special teams really weren't a factor tonight, however, as each team took one penalty and killed one off with little consequence. Although the increasingly loud boos ringing out from the Montreal faithful might imply that they felt there should be more...
- Nice to see Jack Hillen continue to produce offensively for the Caps, as he picked up his first goal as a Cap that turned into an assist and then went ahead and got that first goal for real. Dedicate that one to the new baby, Papa Jack.
- This wasn't a pretty win for the Caps, but it was one of those games that showed how opportunistic they could really be. All in all the Habs put together 76 shot attempts to the Caps' 46. They had the better zone time, a number of wide-open nets and a scrambling defense, but simply couldn't cash in while the Caps made sure that enough of their few chances counted. And that was the difference right there - opportunistic vs. blown opportunities. Game, set, match.
Tonight's win probably won't put to rest the chatter about a weaker division or the Caps' inability to topple the tough opponents - nor should it. One game does not a season make, and the Caps still have a lot to prove.
What it did do, however, was represent an important step forward. The Caps weren't the better team tonight but held their own with one of the East's best. They worked hard and got rewarded. They got great and timely goaltending. All of these together may not equal a contending team (yet) - but it does equal a big road win, and for now that's what matters most.