MONTREAL – The Capitals remembered what it’s like to scored goals as five players got on the scoresheet in a 5-0 rout of the Canadiens Saturday night. Alex Ovechkin returned to the lineup after missing two games with a groin injury and decided to start the offensive outburst himself with goal No. 36.
Five thoughts on the win in Montreal.
1. A win for Holtby. It’s been a challenging season for Capitals netminder Braden Holtby. He entered the year as the undisputed No. 1 goaltender on the organizational depth chart only to lose that spot when the team leaned on Philipp Grubauer for a lengthy stretch from December through mid-January. Only on Monday was Grubauer reassigned to the American Hockey League, opening up an opportunity for Holtby once more.
Saturday night, in his second start and fourth appearance in the past five games, Holtby finished with a 21-save shutout against the Canadiens. He also earned his first win in more than a month – his last victory came on Dec. 7 against Nashville.
“It’s obviously nice to get the head bumps or whatever you call them at the end, it’s been a while,” Holtby said. “It has been a long time since I’ve been on the win sheet, so hopefully we can keep it rolling now.”
While he didn’t see an overwhelming workload by any means, especially early on as Montreal mustered only nine shots through the first 40 minutes, that presents challenges in itself. The last time Holtby didn’t see many pucks fired his way was Jan. 4 at Minnesota, which didn’t go well for him as he allowed five goals on 11 shots.
So when the Canadiens mustered only three in the opening period, Holtby was determined to do his part to keep the team on course because Washington had played a strong first but just didn’t have anything on the scoreboard to show for it.
“It’s a tough thing to do,” Holtby said. “I had a game about a month ago that I didn’t do a very good job in, in a game I didn’t see a huge amount of shots. The one thing I wanted to do was make sure I stayed calm and showed the team that they didn’t have to worry about me back there, so they could keep playing the way they were.”
Over the course of his past four appearances, including the two relief efforts on the road in Columbus and New York, Holtby has stopped 82 of the past 87 shots he has faced and been steady overall. It’s a small sample size, but a .943 save percentage in it is perhaps the start of Holtby reclaiming his place on the depth chart.
“He’s no different than any other player. You want to get results,” Coach Adam Oates said of Holtby. “He’s worked hard, he’s been patient. Glad to see he got a shutout, obviously the win’s the most important thing, but good for him. He looked very solid in net.”
2. The Bell Centre crowd. While on the topic of shots, or lack thereof, the environment in Montreal is arguably the best in the league largely because of the always on-point home crowd. They’re aware of every detail in the game and can be an intimidation factor for struggling visitors or as was the case Saturday, merciless in their mockery of their hometown Canadiens.
As time continued to pass by in the second period without the Canadiens recording a shot on goal, the crowd grew restless. They sang “We want a shot” in French and groaned each time a puck went wide of the cage. When the Canadiens finally recorded their fourth shot of the game with 12:44 gone in the second period, the crowd gave the loudest most enthusiastic Bronx cheer I’ve ever heard, and a standing ovation. It was quite the note of disapproval.
“That was probably the biggest cheer I’ve ever gotten from making a save actually,” Holtby quipped.
Aside from their ridicule of the home team, they were rather quiet. A rare environment here, but a welcome one for the Capitals.
“Not too many times you come in this building and you get that reaction,” Oates said. “I’ve been in this building a lot of times it’s been the opposite. To hear a quiet [Bell Centre] is nice.”
3. “Das Beags”. When Mikhail Grabovski suffered a injury to his left leg Friday night in New Jersey it meant that the Capitals would need some of their other centers to handle more ice time especially usual fourth-line pivot Jay Beagle. The hard-working Beagle is most well known for his defensive instincts, which made him a favorite of former coach Dale Hunter, but in these past two games he has recorded five shots on goal and shown his ability to help drive a forecheck and move the puck cleanly out of the Capitals’ zone.
One of those shots Saturday night, on a shift following an unsuccessful power play, resulted in his first goal since March 22, 2013.
“The confidence that Oatesy and the coaching staff showed in me the last two games with Grabo kind of going down in the middle of the second [in New Jersey]… just trying to show them that I can play a bigger role,” Beagle said. “And also we needed a win. It comes down to that. You play hard for the boys, and it felt good to get that win.”
The play began when Tom Wilson made a nice play at the point to keep the puck in the Montreal zone, allowing the Capitals to reset. Mike Green sent a pass across the ice, to Wilson in the left circle and rather than shoot, the rookie spotted Beagle open as he cut in front of the net. He sent a hard pass over to Beagle, who stopped it with his skate and then fired a backhander into an open net.
“It was perfect,” Beagle said. “He puts it anywhere in kind of my wheelhouse, hopefully I can pick that up because [Carey] Price bit on it and I had a wide-open net. It was a great pass.”
Wait, an awkward angle backhander after kicking the puck out to himself is Beagle’s wheelhouse?
“Anywhere in my vicinity is my wheelhouse,” Beagle said with a laugh. “My feet are actually decent for being so bad at soccer, I can actually pick up a lot of pucks with my feet surprisingly.”
(Side note: The subject of this item is what Wilson was good-naturedly chirping as Beagle spoke to reporters Saturday night – imagine it with a hint of a German accent similar to “Das Boot” in the movie “‘Beerfest” and you get an idea of what it sounded like.)
4. Wellman joins the fray. Also because of Grabovski’s absence, the Capitals recalled Casey Wellman from Hershey for some extra center depth in Montreal where he played in between Eric Fehr and Joel Ward on what was the fourth line. He had scored two goals for the Bears in Syracuse Friday night before he got the call from the Capitals and brought his offense up to the NHL with him.
On a two-on-one rush with Alex Ovechkin in the third period, Wellman recorded his first goal since back on Dec 4, 2011 when he was playing with the Minnesota Wild. It was the second game of the year with the Capitals and for Oates. Wellman’s speed made him the right player to bring up at this juncture, but the coach wasn’t sure how long he would remain with the team after Saturday’s game either.
“His skating ability is huge,” Oates said. “They’re a fast team, fast building, we expected a bit of a track meet and I liked what I saw last time.”
5. A fluky bounce. So much has gone wrong for the Capitals over the past several weeks, even when they did get bounces – think of Mike Green’s bank-shot goal in Minnesota – to go their way they couldn’t put everything together for a win. In Montreal, though, a fluky goal gave them their first two-goal lead since Jan. 9 and another helpful confidence boost.
John Erskine didn’t even really fire a shot on net as much as have it roll of his stick into the slot where Brooks Laich was tied up with P.K. Subban. Montreal goaltender Price was caught unprepared for the slow, rolling puck and the Capitals had scored again just 1:19 after Ovechkin’s goal.
“The second goal really helped us, Brooksie hits his stick and the goalie got mesmerized for a second,” Oates said. “We had a lot of chances; we just weren’t getting them and that goal kind of gave us a little life.”