Sometimes it can be hard to predict what will happen on any given night in the NHL. That's especially true when two teams are going in the same direction, whether that direction is up or down - and lately both the Caps and Canadiens have been following the same downward spiral, with the Caps dropping their last seven and the Habs winless in four of their last five. Do they both continue their lackluster play? Do they both step it up (or at least appear to)? Or does one team dominate the other?
Well, the answer to that started to become clear early on in this one, and grew crystal clear by the halfway point of the game, as the Caps put on their big-boy pants and rolled over the Habs for their first win in over two weeks.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Some of the Caps' more recent games have been lacking in snarl and aggression, but that wasn't the case tonight. Both teams came out with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, no doubt the product of mutual frustration from each at their recent plight. That chippiness boiled over into a hefty throwdown between Tom Wilson and hard-nosed Brandon Prust - and the kid held his own against a pretty tough customer in Prust.
- The Caps have struggled with the offense of late, with just three goals in their last four games... so of course the first time they got the puck to cross the goal line tonight, it was a good two seconds after the first period had already ended. At that point it was starting to feel like they were never going to score an actual goal again, didn't it? Ah, but how little we knew.
- Really strange end to that period (on top of the no-goal as time expired), with Lars Eller landing in the box for a double-minor right as Nicklas Backstrom was nabbed for a phantom tripping call. Luckily the power play remained in tact, and it was time for Alex Ovechkin to announce his return to the lineup. And being Alex Ovechkin, he did it with style, using those great hands of his to juggle a bouncing puck on his stick and slip it past Carey Price for the 1-0 lead in the dying seconds of the power play. Welcome back, Captain.
- Everyone expects Ovechkin to score. Less expected was the goal that followed shortly after off a-...well, let's be generous and call it a "shot" from Erskine that dribbled through everyone's legs, including Price's. And with that goal, and an assist last night against the Devils, Erskine now has points in back-to-back games for the first time in almost exactly a year (January 27 and 29, 2013, when he also had a goal and an assist).
- And that wasn't the end of the surprising events of the evening. Because if you had Erskine picking up his first goal of the season, take a bow; if you had Erskine AND Jay Beagle getting their first on the same night, get yourself to Vegas. And if you had both of them doing so before Martin Erat managed to pick up his first goal, well... bet the bank. You're on a roll.
- Kind of nice to see the Caps pile on the goals like they used to earlier in the season, with three tallies in the first half of the middle frame. And just to put the cherry on the sundae that was that first half, John Carlson would extend the lead to four right before the ten-minute mark of the second with a point shot on a delayed penalty that simply eluded Price. Four goals, fourteen shots in ten minutes. Yeah, that's a pretty good way to take the home crowd right out of it.
- Okay, who's ready for some more history? Everyone, right? Great! This was the first time the Caps had at least a two-goal lead to protect since January 9. Coincidentally that game was also the last time the Caps had more than two goals in a period (racking up three in their eventual win over Tampa Bay). The last time they had four in a single period goes all the way back to November 5 against the Islanders. Memories...
- Very tough crowd in Montreal, as always, but it's nice when their vitriol is directed at the home team and not at you - which is what happened, and quickly, particularly after the Habs were outscored 14-0 in those first ten minutes of the second period. Their response? A standing ovation - a standing ovation - for the first shot of the period, courtesy of Daniel Briere. And then more applause for every subsequent shot for the remainder of the frame, because if you're going to be vicious, you've got to commit. No one does it like Habs fans.
- Everyone was getting in on the scoring in this one, and it was rounded out nicely when the guy called up earlier today to replace an injured Mikhail Grabovski became the 5th Cap to pick up a goal. Excellent, excellent feed from Alex Ovechkin to set up Casey Wellman for his first goal as a Capital and give the Caps their final goal of the night, and nice work by Wellman to go to the net and be ready for a pass no one else saw coming.
- Regardless of whether or not the Habs made it tough on him - and they did produce some flurries at times - this was a big win for Braden Holtby, and to see him get the shutout was just a nice bit of closure after a rough couple of weeks. He was great when he needed to be, but didn't need to be great that often, and hopefully this is a game that he (and his team) can draw some confidence from.
It's been a long couple of weeks for all of us. Seven games, no wins, minimal offense - all of it comes to an end as the Caps pile on five goals, getting contributions from throughout the lineup, and don't give up a single goal-against. That it came against a team in as much disarray as the Caps right now doesn't take away from the fact that they needed this win, and earned every second of it. Now the key has to be building on it for the next win, and the next one after that - because we've seen firsthand how quickly a streak can accumulate. Time to get one of the good ones going now.