The Capitals overcame a sluggish start, giving up another quick goal and an injury to Michal Neuvirth in warmups to capture a 3-2 shootout victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night.
Five thoughts on the win against Montreal.
1. Eric Fehr, proving a point. The veteran winger spent nine games out of the lineup before he was brought back into the mix a week ago in Toronto. In three games since, he’s made a case as to why he shouldn’t be the odd forward out again with two goals and an assist.
“It feels pretty good to contribute, I’m trying to help obviously any way I can. Whether it’s scoring, playing good D or helping on the penalty kill I’m trying to do whatever they ask,” said Fehr, who was reminded he’s also 2 for 2 in shootouts since getting back in the lineup. “Shootouts haven’t been my friend in the past but I’m playing with a little bit more confidence now. So I’m feeling good about it.”
Fehr recorded an opportunistic goal in the second period against the Canadiens when Mikhail Grabovski stripped Peter Budaj of the puck and then sent it out in front to his trailing linemate. Then in the third period, Fehr sparked the rush and made a solid play in the corner to create Grabovski’s tying goal.
It was a bouncing pass that Fehr sent knuckling over toward Grabovski in the slot – he knew it wasn’t the best situation to put his linemate in – but he was glad to see the center convert.
“Their D had been pinching us all night so in the D-zone when I got it, I just quickly gave it to [Troy] Brouwer and tried to spring free; almost had a bit of a break but we regrouped,” Fehr said. “Gave a grenade to Grabo and he settled it down and put it in. Great, great play by Grabo putting it in.”
2. Second-line spark? It’s uncertain how long any of the current line combinations will stay together but three games in it looks like Fehr and Grabovski have already grown familiar with each other. They were the Capitals’ best line by far against Montreal, managed to limit time in their own zone and played well both with the puck and away from it.
For Fehr, it’s been easy to read off of the playmaking center.
“He’s a pretty easy guy to play with, he protects the puck so well, he hangs on to it and lets you get open,” Fehr said. “You don’t feel like you have to go help him very often. He’s strong on his skates, he’s done a great job, he’s really helped me feel a lot more comfortable out there.”
For Grabovski, it’s taken a little bit to get used to skating with two right-handed wingers but it’s becoming easier with time.
“He’s a great player, unbelievable player. It’s very easy for me to play with this partner,” Grabovski said. “Brouwer same, I never play before with two righty players so it was a little bit hard last game but every game is better chemistry.”
Grabovski seems to be finding a rhythm with the Capitals in general. Early in the season, Coach Adam Oates moved Grabovski off the second line because he felt the center needed more time to grow comfortable with Washington’s systems, particularly in the defensive zone. But after a lengthy stint on the third line the 29-year-old is clearly comfortable with his responsibilities all over the ice, a timely development for the Capitals as they reconfigured the second line.
Success has been fleeting for every second-line trio so far this season, but if Grabovski and Fehr can provide some much-needed secondary scoring and stabilize that unit it would be a boon for the team overall.
3. Urbom sits. Rookie defenseman Alex Urbom skated only 2 minutes 15 seconds over three shifts Friday night as Oates and assistant coach Calle Johansson decided to bench him after he didn’t pursue Tomas Plekanec behind the net, allowing the Canadiens forward to set up Daniel Briere for a goal.
“We weren’t happy with his game last game [against Ottawa] and basically made the same mistake and it cost us a goal,” Oates said. “You’re the last line of defense there. Calle and I talked and we feel like he’s struggling to make those reads and it was too early in the game to allow another one. We talked about it and we kind of got back in the game and then you don’t want to put a kid back out there when he’s cold, put him in a situation where he might be overthinking. You don’t want to ruin someone because of that.”
Making the decision to sit a struggling player isn’t all that surprising or unusual – Oates benched Mike Green in Winnipeg earlier this year – but to do so with over 54 minutes remaining in regulation is, given the additional ice time and shifts the remaining five defensemen must handle.
Whether that heavy workload on Friday night – John Carlson played 31:30, Green 26:42, Alzner 25:23 – takes a toll Saturday against the Islanders remains to be seen. As does whether Oates decides to put Urbom back in the lineup in the second of back-to-back games, or if he chooses to switch things up.
4. Chimera on the top line. With roughly six minutes remaining in the second period against the Canadiens, Oates moved Jason Chimera up to the first line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. He was looking for any kind of spark or jump that might help the Capitals get back in the contest and the trio stuck together through the third period as well.
“Looking for just some sort of chemistry and I thought Chimmer had great legs tonight,” Oates said. “Just looking for some sort of change, maybe affect their matchups, etc.”
While Chimera was on the top line, Marcus Johansson took his spot with Jay Beagle and Joel Ward on the third.
5. Carry-over. The Capitals readily admitted they didn’t play a perfect game against Montreal. But they know they must take what they did well late in the contest and bring that same drive against the Islanders Saturday if they’re to take another step forward.
“We’ve got to recover quick and get down there just try to carry some of the momentum we had in the second half of the game,” Fehr said. “We played a lot more physical and I think that was a big reason why we came back. We were physical on their D, creating a few more turnovers and a lot harder on their forwards. We weren’t letting them spin off us, I think that was a big part of the second half of the game.”