That was the Capitals’ fifth goal of an impressive 6-3 win Wednesday, and it encapsulated Washington’s night as it returned home following a difficult but successful four-game road trip.
“Really good play by him,” Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said of the pass by Ovechkin early in the third period. “An unselfish play. The right play. . . . It’s not like he couldn’t have scored tonight. . . . But I always think there’s that area where you’ve got to make the right decision. It can’t just be about one thing or the other thing.”
The Capitals (12-3-5) dominated the sputtering Canadiens (5-14-2), and their veterans continued to turn in stellar individual efforts. But Washington lost another important player in the process.
After taking a hard hit, defenseman Justin Schultz left the game with an upper-body injury late in the first period and did not return. Laviolette did not have an update on Schultz after the game, other than noting he is day-to-day. He will be evaluated Thursday. Until he went down, Washington’s blue line had avoided significant injury all season.
The Capitals already are without five forwards: T.J. Oshie, Conor Sheary, Lars Eller, Anthony Mantha and Nicklas Backstrom. Oshie was placed on injured reserve Wednesday for the second time this season. Sheary is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, and Eller remains in the NHL’s coronavirus protocols.
Despite the injuries, the depleted Capitals poured it on against Montreal.
“Obviously the situation, we don’t have any choices,” Ovechkin said. “It’s a good thing for future — if something happens, we can bring extra guy and he going to be fine and our lineup is going to play well.”
Nic Dowd scored the opening goal at 3:34 of the first period with a stellar individual effort. He went wide around Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry before he fanned on the shot, then circled behind the net and went to the backhand to beat Allen. Defenseman John Carlson gave the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his blast on the power play with 10:17 left in the first.
Michael Sgarbossa, called up from Washington’s American Hockey League affiliate Wednesday, got credit for the third goal after a Montreal clearing attempt hit him, deflected off a Canadiens player and sneaked by Allen at 14:31. Montreal got one back at 18:46 on Jake Evans’s tally past Ilya Samsonov but was badly outplayed in the first 20 minutes, getting outshot 16-5.
Evgeny Kuznetsov made it 4-1 at 9:05 of the second, finishing Carlson’s slap pass at the back door. Cole Caufield found the net for Montreal with 1:06 left. In the third, Ovechkin fed Wilson at 1:49, then defenseman Dmitry Orlov made it 6-2 at 5:57 before Artturi Lehkonen added another for Montreal on a breakaway at 17:34.
Samsonov finished with 25 saves for the Capitals. Allen had 28 stops for Montreal.
Here is what to know from Wednesday’s win:
Ovechkin still thriving
Ovechkin’s 33 points are the most in Capitals history through the first 20 games of a season. His three assists Wednesday gave him 18, and his rate of 0.90 assists per game is the highest of his career. He finished with 18 assists in 45 games last season.
“I guess you just grow to expect it a little bit,” Laviolette said of Ovechkin’s contributions. “He’s been our top player since training camp. He’s come in in great shape. He’s tried to make an impact in every game.”
Kuznetsov has 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) after his two-point night. He had 29 points in 41 games last season, including nine goals.
Protas joins top line
Aliaksei Protas skated at right wing on the top line with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. Protas said Wednesday morning that he grew up watching both players and “couldn’t wait” to play alongside them. The 20-year-old from Belarus said he speaks Russian with both of them.
“He’s been noticeable in the games with his work ethic and his speed and his size and his heaviness on his stick in the battles,” Laviolette said. “So it is a good opportunity for him to step up and show what he can do in that role.”
Protas skated 17:52, including more than a minute of power-play time.
Shutout streak ends
Samsonov’s shutout streak ended at 170:13 on Evans’s goal.
The Russian goaltender’s previous two games were shutouts during Washington’s West Coast road trip. He had a 34-save blanking of Los Angeles and then followed it with a 22-save shutout at San Jose.
Samsonov said his mental focus has been better since early in the season, when he struggled with consistency. Still, he improved to 7-0-1 with Wednesday’s win. He is the first goaltender in franchise history to avoid a regulation loss in his first eight decisions of a season, per the NHL.
Another efficient start
Washington has had highly efficient starts of late, scoring the first goal on its first shot on goal in its past three outings.
“There was a series of games where we were having some trouble coming out and being ready for games,” defenseman Nick Jensen said. “I think teams were coming out more ready for games than we were, but we were responding well. But when we are able to come out in the first period and surprise teams with our intensity and our speed, I think that is important, and it sets the tone of the game for us.”