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Capitals vs. Canadiens Recap: Overtime Needed To Prevail In Back-And-Forth Affair

The Caps needed the extra stanza, but finish their road-trip with a winning record.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Washington returned to the Bell Centre where the specter of their contest against the Canadiens in which they surrounded a late lead to the Habs under three weeks ago loomed large. Washington looked to close out their road trip with a victory, and while they needed some free hockey to accomplish their goal, Lars Eller played the hero in overtime to give the Captitals a 5-4 lead.

Here’s Mondays night’s Plus/Minus:

Plus: Tom Wilson has now tallied one goal and five assists in the four games since returning to action following his extended suspension to begin the season.

Minus: The Canadiens chased Pheonix Copley moments into the second period after a one-goal lead turned into a two-goal deficit, and they called upon Braden Holtby into action in his first game active following injury.

And now this...

After feeling each other out for the first ten minutes, the Canadiens tilted the ice and struck first with some fancy stick-handling and a nice individual effort by Mike Reilly for his second goal of the season to sneak the puck between Copley and his right post.

The third line responded to even the score with a hair under seven minutes left in the opening stanza. Washington capitalized off a bad change by Montreal, Brett Connolly recorded his third goal of the season and the 60th of his career on a ricochet off the back boards to elude a sprawling Carey Price.

A little over a minute later, the recently liberated Tom “#FreeWilly” Wilson found Alex Ovechkin on the doorstep, threading a slap pass through three Canadiens who tapped it in on the doorstep to give the Capitals the 2-1 advantage.

Despite being in front on the scoreboard, the Caps spent the majority of the first period in their own zone and were outshot by a 17-8 margin.

Just twenty seconds into the second, Brendan Gallagher evened the score with his tenth goal of the season to squirt past Copley to tie the score at two apiece. Madison Bowey got tagged seconds later for interference as he tried unsuccessfully to prevent an odd-man rush and Jeff Petry scored his second goal of the season just 48 seconds later to give the Canadiens the one-goal lead.

The Habs were not done just yet: a deflection by Agostino on the very next shot 28 seconds later beat Copley once again, and his night was over as he yielded to Braden Holtby. When the dust cleared, the Capitals one-goal lead had turned into a two-goal deficit in the span of 95 seconds, and Washington trailed 4-2.

Lars Eller was guilty of a high stick on Gallagher, resulting in the second double minor penalty of the game as the winger drew blood though they successfully killed off the extended penalty kill.

Nicklas Backstrom got the Capitals back on the board to cut the deficit to one with a little over six and a half minutes remaining in the middle frame, and picked up his tenth point in the last nine games including four goals over that stretch.

After being totally outclassed in the opening moments of the period, the Capitals showed signs of improvement as the period progressed, namely after Holtby was called into duty, though they still trailed in shots 34-19 at the start of the third period.

With nineteen seconds remaining in the man-advantage, Jordie Benn was tagged for a two-minute tripping minor and the Capitals did what they do best on the 5-on-3, Tom Wilson clicked it to John Carlson who found Alex Ovechkin at home in his office, where he slapped the puck home, tying the game at four apiece.

With the tally, Ovechkin tied with Mario Lemieux (236) for seventh place on the NHL’s all-time power play goal list and drew within four goals of passing Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla (625) for 15th on the NHL’s all-time goals list.

Perhaps recognizing his team needed a boost, Reirden opted to swap lines in the third period with the game tied:

The new line-mates paid off as the Capitals clamped down and trimmed the shot deficit while simultaneously fighting off a bevy of chances by the Canadiens in the final minute of regulation time, though the game would require overtime to settle the game.

Not to be outdone by Carey Price’s acrobatics in regulation, Braden Holtby made a splendid save on Gallagher midway through the extra stanza on what would have ended the game on a lesser net-minder.

After being called to win a faceoff, Lars Eller drew the boo-birds from his former home fans who he sent home unhappy, after he collected a criss cross pass from Jacob Vrana and buried it past Price to silence the Bell Centre crowd and to finish off the comeback with a 5-4 final.

Ten more notes on the game:

  1. Braden Holtby was healthy enough to earn a sweater this evening, though evidently not well enough to get the start, instead, Pheonix Copley got the nod once again between the pipes. It has been well-documented the volume of minutes the Capitals have called upon Holts in net on the past several seasons, and his usage has been under more scrutiny after showing how much he benefits from rest after he was able to turn to the next level after getting 28 starts from Philipp Grubauer later on in the season. Ultimately, it was promising to see that they feel confident enough to a) activate Holtby even if he wasn’t starting and b) Feel confident enough early on in the season to keep Copley in net for the fourth time in six days. Regrettably, the results did not pan out favorably: Copley made 18 stops on 22 shots before giving ways to Holtby after the disastrous start to the second period.
  2. I’m going to credit to Matt Niskanen for getting into a scrap in the first period... Before you get the pitchforks out, hear me out: With 2:26 left in the first Kenny Agostino came in with a hit on Devante Smith-Pelly on perhaps a questionable angle, forcing DSP to lose his skate blade in the farthest corner from the bench and the puck in transition to the other end. While Smith-Pelly appealed to the referee for a whistle, the officials left him out to dry and have to find his own way back to the bench for a change. Niskanen opted to confront Agostino which drew the whistle and allowed the Capitals to get a change in personnel. Yes, it also resulted in a four minute double-minor (less than ideal) but the Capitals were able to finish off the period unscathed. Perhaps this is an instance of liking the “veteran move” intent because the outcome didn’t end up hurting the Caps on the scoreboard.
  3. It ended up being a weird night for fighting, as Dmitry Orlov got into a donnybrook with Max Domi, and Dima came out worse for the wear with bloody nose. The fight was just Orlov’s second of his career, but lit a fire under the Capitals in the waining moments of the second period as Tom Wilson baited Phillip Danault into a minor penalty as the second period came to a close.
  4. The Madison Bowey/Christian Djoos pairing looked woefully overmatched for long stretches of the game, perhaps perfectly encapsulated when they were both on the ice for Montreal’s goal in the first. Bowey was tagged for a completely unnecessary icing call as he hurled the puck down ice in a moment of panic, and then moments later was out of position leaving a wide-open wing for Reilly to dangle in and score. It will be interesting to see if Todd Reirden considers breaking up the duo to get some different defensive looks in the coming games.
  5. In a game where very little went the Capitals way, Alex Ovechkin continued playing hot hockey north of border, tallying two goals on five shots while leading all skaters with 21:53 minutes of ice time. His 35 goals in 54 games makes him only one of six active players with at least 20 career goals against the Canadiens, and his 0.63 goals per game against the Canadiens is the highest per game total among active players with at least 20 career games and the ninth highest all-time.
  6. Lars Eller was called upon to serve as the center on the top line tonight against his former team with Evgeny Kuznetzov still on the shelf. As a Canadien, Eller tailled 154 points in 435 games, though he will be a Capital For Life™ after his performance in last year’s Stanley Cup winning performance. Eller was a +1 on the night, registering three shots and the game-deciding goal. There have been lots of calls for Todd Reirden to reunite Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom on the top line in Kuzy’s absence, something he opted to do in the third period of the contest. However, I would posit that their duo is known entity and perhaps it would be beneficial to even out the lines, and gain some chemistry with other line-mates, and reserve their “ace in the hole” pairings for later on the season (or in close games) with Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie currently on the shelf. For what it’s worth, in the pregame chat with the media, Reirden hinted that we should have a better idea of their timetables to return in the next day or two. Ultimately, Eller came up large in overtime after drawing the ire of his former fans.
  7. Victor Mete, Mike Reilly, David Schlemko, Kenny Agostinio... Tonight was a game for the “who’s who” of “who’s that” getting on the stat sheet. It was not a great look for the Capitals who at times seemed to key in on the Habs top line when they were on the ice (to mixed results) but in doing so allowed the “other guys” a chance to make an impact.
  8. John Carlson who tallied an assist on the Ovechkin goal in the third period tied of passing Brendan Witt (626) for fifth place in games played in franchise history among defensemen tonight. It’s hard to imagine this team without JC74 in the lineup, and the evening presented a nice contract of what might have been, as the lone former Capital on the Canadiens, the former “iron man” Karl Alzner was a healthy scratch yet again. Since departing from Washington to chase a ring in the summer of 2017, the 30-year-old blue-liner has posted just one goal and 11 assists in Montreal, and has only suited up in six of the Canadiens’ 21 games this season.
  9. Credit where credit is due, Carey Price stood on his head all night. Despite surrendering five goals, he showed tremendous dexterity and lateral movement in net, particularly in robbing Ovechkin with some extra sizzle with under nine minutes remaining in the third period on what very well could have been a tie-breaking goal... and again on a stick save with under one second left to go in regulation time:

10. After what appeared to be a narrative-confirming collapse, reminiscent of their last contest of the Canadiens, Washington came to life in the second half of the contest enough to earn them the road victory. Though the Capitals recorded ten fewer shots than the Habs (44 to 34), they dug themselves out of a deficit that at one point was as many as minus-20 attempts on net. Washington finished their week-long road trip with a 3-1 record and return for some home cooking with two games on either side of the Thanksgiving (US!) holiday