The Washington Capitals returned home on Saturday night in search of their first win of the season. They avoided a third consecutive loss, beating the Montreal Canadiens with perseverance, scoring balance, and doing what veteran teams do — take advantage of the youth of their opponents by forcing errors.
Here’s Saturday night’s Plus/Minus:
Plus: As the veteran team that they are, there was no panic and no discouragement when Montreal scored first, just resolve and taking care of business. It allowed the Caps to wear down their younger opponent in a well-balanced effort.
Minus: For the third time in three games, the Caps allowed the game’s first goal, although this time they waited until the second period to do so.
A few more notes on the game:
- The Caps opened the game with a re-worked top line of Dylan Strome centering Alex Ovechkin and Connor Brown. Two thirds of that line was on the ice when the Caps broke on top 13:29 into the period. From the left point, Erik Gustafsson fed a snap pass to Alex Ovechkin on the weak side for a redirect past goalie Sam Montembeault…or so we thought. Montreal challenged the play, the video showing that Aliaksei Protas (who was on that top line in place of Connor Brown at the time) was a half-stride offside, washing out the goal.
- The teams remained scoreless for the balance of the first period. The Caps out-shot the Canadiens, 12-8 and out-attempted them, 19-13. Ten Caps recorded shots on goal, Ovechkin and Nic Dowd with two apiece; Ovechkin had three shot attempts. The Caps out-hit Montreal, 15-7, Garnet Hathaway leading the home team with three. Washington was just 7-for-21 on faceoffs, only Lars Eller reaching 50 percent (one win, one loss). Nic Jensen led the Caps with 7:31 in ice time.
- The second period opened with Montreal mounting sustained pressure in the Caps’ zone, and it paid off when Nick Suzuki walked out from behind the Washington net to the right of goalie Darcy Kuemper and stuffed a wrap-around under Kuemper at the 2:01 mark.
- Washington went down a man for the second time in the game when Conor Sheary was sent off for tripping 6:46 into the second period. The Caps had the best chance when Lars Eller fired a shot on goal, recovered his own missed shot as he circled around the Montreal net, and found Nic Dowd for a one-timer from the low slot. Montembeault cut off just enough of the shooting angle to smother the shot, and the Caps’ chance passed by.
- Conor Sheary tied things up for the Caps 9:02 into the period when Nick Jensen circled around Sean Monahan in the right-wing circle, fed the puck to the goal mouth, and Sheary applied the finishing touch, redirecting the puck past Montembeault while falling down to make it a 1-1 game.
- Washington took their first lead of the game when Evgeny Kuznetsov took advantage of rookie Kaiden Guhle, stripping him of the puck below the Montreal goal line and feeding Anthony Mantha as he was cruising into the right-wing circle. Mantha turned and snapped a shot past Montembeault at the 1:43 mark to make it 2-1, Caps.
- The Caps were awarded their first power play of the game 14:06 into the period when Mike Hoffman was shown the gate for slashing. T.J. Oshie converted, the product of singular persistence on his part. Alex Ovechkin fired a shot that hit Montembeault in the logo, but the goalie did not control the puck. Oshie swooped in and tried to sneak the puck past Montembeault’s left pad. The goalie got his toe on it, but his momentum carried him out of the crease. Oshie followed the puck and before Guhle could get his stick on the loose puck, Oshie calmly poked it into the back of the net from between Guhle’s legs to give the Caps a two-goal lead.
- Washington went to another power play at the 16:03 mark, Arber Xhekaj going off for slashing. The Caps did not convert, and the teams went to the second intermission with the Caps leading, 3-1. The Caps out-shot the Canadiens, 14-5 in the period and out-attempted them by a 32-15 margin. Through two periods, Nick Jensen was the only Capital without a shot attempt.
- The third period was a largely quiet affair, except for the brief kerfuffle between Anthony Mantha and Kaiden Guhle (who had a really rough night) and the end-of-game scrum. The Caps were content to counterpunch and force Montreal to skate all 200 feet of the ice whenever possible to mount an attack.
- It is early, and it is only one game, but Darcy Kuemper (21 saves) gave the Caps precisely the kind of goaltending they needed and did not get enough of last season — steady, unspectacular in a good way, efficient, effective.
Winning beats losing, whenever it happens and regardless of the opponent. Getting that first win of the season might be just what the Caps need to go off on a more successful run, something they can work on when Bruce Boudreau and the Vancouver Canucks come calling on Monday.