A slow start and repetitive flaws left the Capitals looking for answers for a second consecutive game at home after losing, 3-2, to the Montreal Canadiens in the first half of back-to-back games. It also left Coach Adam Oates more frustrated than usual.
Five thoughts on the loss to Montreal.
1. No. 18 and 19 Alex Ovechkin is on pace to score 70 goals. Think about that for a second. That’s a massive amount of goals, the likes of which haven’t been seen in the NHL for two decades. The last time a player scored 70 goals in a season was when Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny both did it in 1992-93, recording 76 each. (s/t Neil Greenberg)
Of course it’s impossible to say whether Ovechkin will continue on this pace for the full 82-game season, but given all the different ways he’s finding to put pucks in the net this year it sure will be fun to watch him try.
His two goals offered a bright spot against Montreal as he reclaimed the league-lead in scoring with 19, two ahead of Blues forward Alexander Steen. His first goal came on the power play late in the first period, when he exploited just a sliver of space between Peter Budaj’s pads on a bad-angle shot.
The second was even less characteristic of old-Ovi, though not completely out of the realm of possibility this year. As the Capitals worked the puck around the boards behind the net and then out to the point, Ovechkin went right out in front. He jostled for positioning with defending Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban and had enough space to deflect John Carlson’s shot from the point.
Here are both goals. No. 18.
And No. 19.
2. Penalties They might not always seem logical or justified, but all teams have to deal with receiving calls they don’t agree with and are tasked with the responsibility of adjusting to an officiating crew. The Capitals were whistled for five minor penalties against Montreal and each trip to the box robbed them of the ability to maintain a flow to the game, extend momentum and try to mount a successful comeback.
“We shot ourselves in the foot, we got too many penalties again, that’s four games in a row,” Oates said. “Ovi gets an unsportsmanlike — that’s uncharacteristic he can’t [let teams] get under his skin. It’s a 3-1 game. He knows better than that.”
The penalty Oates is referring too was the roughing minor Alex Ovechkin received after dumping Brian Gionta to the ice in retaliation for a play earlier in the same shift when the Canadiens captain tripped him in the offensive zone. His was the final penalty in a game that saw the Capitals take more than they had in any of the previous five games. Since Oates mentioned it, it’s worth noting that the Capitals have taken 18 minor penalties in the past four games.
3. Green’s first game back After sitting out the past three games with a lower-body contusion, Mike Green was activated from injured reserve and returned to the lineup Friday night. He was on the ice for Travis Moen’s goal, which kicked off Montreal’s three-goal first period, but all told had a fairly routine outing. Green looked to have all the mobility and smooth skating skills that one expects to see from him, which is an encouraging sign where his health is concerned.
“I felt better as the game went on,” Green said. “It took me about a period to get my legs and the speed of the game.”
Green started the game skating with Alex Urbom and took shifts with Nate Schmidt as the contest wore on as well. He finished with 20:37 in ice time, as the Capitals eased him back into game action. John Carlson led the team with 24:52.
4. Second line shuffle Martin Erat lined up at center for the first time in a regular season game Friday night as Oates shuffled the look of the second line, in an effort to coax more – ok, anything – out of the group offensively without changing personnel. With just one game as a sample size, it’s difficult to tell whether Erat between Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer worked much better than the previous configuration with Laich in the middle.
Brouwer recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin’s power play goal but the trio combined for two shots on goal at even strength. That’s not exactly the increased offensive production Washington’s looking for out of it’s second line. All three players were whistled for penalties as well. Laich seemed encouraged by the change, though.
“I thought Marty was great, I honestly thought it was one of our better games,” Laich said. “There’s stuff that we’ve started to implement as a foundation for our line, certain little plays that we were able to execute tonight. there’s been a lot of talk a lot of communication a lot of talk the last couple days with me, Marty and Brouw. Today I thought we had a lot more speed going down the ice and spent more time in the offensive zone.”
5. Neuvirth In his fifth start of the season, Michal Neuvirth made several quality stops in the second period, including a right-pad stop on Brian Gionta on a breakaway, to keep the game within reach for the Capitals. But he, like the rest of the team, didn’t get off to the greatest start.
Of all the goals Montreal scored, Moen’s is the one Neuvirth had the best chance to stop. It’s impossible to know whether a key save in that moment would have changed the trajectory of the first period, or the game, but these days the Capitals need either netminder to make those types of stops. Braden Holtby is expected to start Saturday in Toronto.