Rapid Rewind: Breaking the Hab-it (kind of). Capitals 4, Canadiens 1

The Washington Capitals won for the first time in a week Friday, knocking off the hapless Montreal Canadiens 4-1 inside Verizon Center.  Washington scored first and never looked back, controlling play often and getting a very good performance from Michal Neuvirth.  Alex Ovechkin, Jason Chimera, Mathieu Perreault, and Joel Ward scored for the Caps, who are now tied for ninth in the East.

While this was a nice win for a team that badly needed it, perspective is still needed.  The Canadiens are the worst team in the Eastern Conference and they are missing arguably their two best players, one of whom is their captain.  There are still many problems and there are no guarantees.  In fact, I would say this game gave more questions than answers.  But it’s still a win.  And that’s reason to be happy.

The Capitals got off to a good start, controlling the tempo of the game and earning the first power play of the contest after only 1:53.  Though they were not able to score on their man advantage, they generated some chances in the offensive zone and continued to carry play through the first six minutes of the period.  With 13 minutes left in the period, the Capitals took advantage of a poor Montreal clearing attempt to open the scoring off the stick of Mathieu Perreault.

After the goal, play on both sides of the puck began to get sloppy and neither team could generate much offense consistently.  However, as the latter stages of the period approached, it was the Habs to began to get some chances of their own, and it was only the nice play of Michal Neuvirth that kept the Capitals in front by one after the first period of play.

Montreal started the second period strong, out-shooting the Capitals 4-0 in the opening four minutes of the frame and forcing Neuvirth to stay at the top of his game.  But at the four minute mark, the Caps went to another power play, and only superb play by Carey Price kept the Washington lead one; the Canadiens’ goaltender made several sparking saves, including one on Troy Brouwer in front.

Read on.

Price could not keep his team from taking on water forever, however.  Before the midway mark of regulation, the Capitals scored two goals in sixteen seconds, one off a Jason Chimera breakaway and the other off an Alex Ovechkin one-timer that sent the Verizon Center crowd into a frenzy.  After that third goal, however, the Habs pushed back, and got their first power play with twelve minutes gone.  But Washington killed the penalty off easily, and drew another power play of their own with a little six and a half minutes left in the period.  Despite some penalties to both teams, the period closed with Washington still up three.

The Capitals got themselves another power play after 2:25 in the third period with a chance to really go for the jugular, but instead, Rene Bourque scored a shorthanded goal to make it 3-1 and spoil a shutout streak for the Caps against Montreal at 260:04.  After the goal, the Capitals began to try and make the game interesting again, as Jeff Schultz took a cross checking penalty to saddle his teammates with a huge penalty kill.  Thankfully, however, the Caps had no problems with it.

As the third period wound down, the Capitals put the game into shutdown mode.  There were penalties throughout the final ten minutes, but no goals were scored until Joel Ward ended his drought with a 100 foot goal to ice the game into an empty net, and the Caps skated away 4-1 winners.

Observations:

Michal Neuvirth was very solid during this game.  In his first start in front of the Verizon Center crowd in over two months, the sophomore Czech goalie did exactly what his teammates needed him to do, and that’s stop the puck.  I still think Vokoun is the man, but Saturday’s starter will be an interesting storyline.

I really don’t mean to be beating a dead horse with this, but the whole “bench Mike Knuble for career AHLers” thing needs to stop.  Knuble had played better in recent games, with his ice time steadily increasing, and then gets benched by Dale Hunter for Keith Aucoin, who is an emergency forward.  And no, the Caps’ result tonight had nothing to do with Coiner’s presence.  If Knuble gets traded, I wish him luck.  He deserves better.

Karl Alzner had a great game.  The Capitals’ best and most consistent defenseman this year was just that, making good reads all over the ice, particularly on the penalty kill, and closing gaps with smart positional play as well.  With a player like Alzner, it’s often that when he does his job, you don’t notice it a ton.  That was the case tonight, but I thought he deserved some credit.  He’s a stud.

The Capitals are right back at it Saturday night in Toronto.  That’s also kind of a big game.

Harry Hawkings is a college student who covers the Caps for RtR.  Follow him on Twitter here.

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