Capitals 5, Canadiens 1
The game wasn't 10 minutes old when a referee signaled that a timeout had been called. Players from both teams skated slowly toward their benches, but much to the surprise of Montreal Canadiens Coach Claude Julien and the sellout crowd at Bell Center, it wasn't the Washington Capitals who needed a breather.
Beneficiaries of two fluky goals, another on the power play, and the return of starting goaltender Olie Kolzig, the Capitals went up by three early and held on for a 5-1 victory over one of the NHL's top teams.
Kolzig was solid, and at times spectacular, in his first action since aggravating a nagging hamstring injury Nov. 8. He turned away 43 shots for the Capitals, who took just 20 shots of their own. But it was more than enough to give them their second win in three games and first victory in an opponent's building. (The 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 26 was played in Rochester.) The five goals matched the Capitals' highest output of the season, and the Canadiens' one marked the fewest the Capitals have surrendered.
"Because this is such a stage, and the kind of exposure we don't normally get, I wanted everyone to see how hard our guys work," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said. "We're committed to working, finishing our checks, and I'm glad people got to see that. It was a fun night."
Capitals leading scorer Alex Ovechkin logged five shots, but was held without a point for only the fifth time in 20 games. The rookie left wing played alongside new linemates Andrew Cassels and Clark as Hanlon continued to shuffle his forward lines.
Despite keeping Ovechkin in check, the weary Canadiens struggled to get up to speed. They were playing their second game in two nights, started their backup goalie, Yann Danis, and were without their second-leading scorer, Alexei Kovalev, who is out three to four weeks after undergoing knee surgery this week.
And the Capitals took full advantage of the situation. Brian Sutherby (two goals), Brian Willsie and Brooks Laich scored in the first 9 minutes 20 seconds to stake the visitors to a 3-0 lead and elicit loud boos from the lively crowd of 21,273.
"We played a good game and maybe caught them a little flat," Kolzig said. "It was a good win. We wanted people to see what kind of hockey team have. And we proved we are a lot better than what people picked us to be at the start of the season. And we keep improving every night."
The Capitals' first-period outburst began with Sutherby (four goals in as many games) tapping in the puck after defenseman Jamie Heward's point shot bounced off the endboards and into the crease just 23 seconds in. Willsie, about five minutes later, led a two-on-one with Matt Pettinger. Willsie's cross-ice pass, however, found the stick of Canadiens defenseman Mathieu Dandenault and sneaked past an unsuspecting Danis. Laich's first NHL goal, a rebound he poked past the Montreal goalie, put the Capitals ahead 3-0.
Julien called time out moments later in an attempt to rally his players. Then, after the Capitals' energetic right wing Chris Clark picked the puck off of Danis's stick and scored to make it 4-0 early in the second period, Julien again tried to spark his club by replacing Danis with his No. 1 goalie, Jose Theodore.
Montreal's Michael Ryder scored on the power play at 12:40 of the second period to make it 4-1, and Sutherby's second goal, late in the third, provided the final margin.
"I want to say [Olie] preserved the win, you get up by three goals in the first, sometimes we only get him a one goal lead," Hanlon added. "He played a huge part in our win, as he always does."
Capitals Notes: Left wing Jeff Friesen (groin) missed sixth consecutive game. . . . Right wing Dainuis Zubrus (groin) sat out his third game in a row, and sixth this season, because of the lingering injury. . . . Defenseman Mathieu Biron was a healthy scratch for the sixth game in a row and 11th overall.