MONTREAL, Feb. 20 -- The Montreal Canadiens had won exactly once in their previous seven games. They also were without three injured players, including all-star goaltender Cristobal Huet, who was replaced by a rookie making his second NHL start.
So what was the Washington Capitals' plan of attack? They surrendered three power-play goals in the first period and a short-handed one in the second. And that's all the Canadiens needed to pull out a 5-3 victory on Tuesday night before a sellout crowd at Bell Centre.
"It was out of character, some of the penalties we took," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said. "You can't do that when you're playing one of the better power-play teams in the league. Perhaps we were a little overanxious, over-excited to play the game."
Jamie Heward, Brian Sutherby and Alexander Semin scored second-period goals for the Capitals, who have lost four in a row overall and seven straight on the road. But it wasn't enough to counter the numerous breakdowns on special teams and yet another game without a point for Alex Ovechkin. The all-star winger has now come up empty in three straight contests and six of the past eight.
"We had so many penalties [to kill] in the first period, I sit on the bench whole time," said Ovechkin, who does not skate on the penalty-kill unit and thus was limited to 18 minutes 47 seconds of ice time. "But I have to be ready all the time. Maybe it's my fault. Because sometimes I have speed and I have puck and I go to the zone and I don't know what to do. We must forget this game and get ready for tomorrow."
The Capitals, losers of 12 of their past 13 road games and extreme long shots to qualify for the postseason, return home for Wednesday's game against San Jose, the fifth-ranked team in the Western Conference.
Washington didn't help its cause against the Canadiens by testing rookie goaltender Jaroslav Halak only 18 times, compared with the 32 shots the home team fired on Brent Johnson.
Halak was called up Friday from the minor leagues to replace Huet, who is out for the regular season with a hamstring injury. Since coming to Montreal, Halak, 21, has won both of his starts to help the injury-plagued Canadiens move back into the playoff picture. In addition to being without Huet, they also were missing right wing Alexei Kovalev (elbow) and defenseman Craig Rivet (pneumonia).
The Canadiens wasted no time jumping out to a lead against the penalty-prone Capitals, starting with the first of Christopher Higgins's two goals, which came during a power play at 7:33. Higgins, who later left the game with an "upper body injury," smacked a rebound past a sprawled Johnson.
The Capitals kept getting sent to the penalty box (six times in the opening 20 minutes). And the Canadiens kept making them pay for the miscues.
Winger Michael Ryder (two goals) fired a one-timer from the circle past Johnson at 14:48 and Higgins redirected a pass from Saku Koivu through Johnson 49 seconds later, again on a four-on-three power play. Koivu collected three first-period assists.
The second period started with some promise for the Capitals, as Sutherby and Heward scored goals 30 seconds apart to pull the visitors within 3-2.
But Montreal's strong defense kept Washington's attack at bay, and the game stayed that way until Higgins was sent to the penalty box for four minutes for high sticking at 15:33.
Prime chance to tie things up, right? Wrong.
Ryder snagged a loose puck in Washington's end, raced through center ice, split Heward and Semin in the high slot and beat Johnson at 16:01 to put the Canadiens back in control 4-2.
Semin redeemed himself with 34 seconds remaining in the second when he blew past Sheldon Souray and lifted the puck over Halak to make it 4-3.
But the Capitals were frustrated by the Canadiens in the third, mustering only four shots on Halak, and surrendered an empty-netter to winger Garth Murray in the final minute.
"We took some bad penalties, then we came out strong in the second," Capitals winger Matt Bradley said. "But it's tough to come back from down three goals."
Capitals Notes:Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn's face was bloodied after he was hit in the face by the butt end of Alexander Perezhogin's stick at 13:43 of the first period. The Montreal winger received four minutes for high sticking; Morrisonn returned for the start of the second period.