Brooks Laich gives Braden Holtby the ol’ congratulatory helmet tap. (Photo credit: Francois Lacasse)
Less than 24 hours after being shutout at the hands of the Ottawa Senators, the Washington Capitals turned the tables against the Montreal Canadiens on Holtby — err — Hockey Night in Canada. The 21 year-old stonewalled the Habs on the way to his tenth victory this season.
The Capitals dominated the play during the first period of play, outshooting the Canadiens 12 to three and scoring the only tally of the frame. The goal came just 84 seconds into the contest when Marco Sturm knocked in a rebound off a Nicklas Backstrom wrist shot.
Washington continued their strong play in the second stanza, outshooting the Habs once again while Braden Holtby held the fort in net.
In the third both teams managed good opportunities, but it would be the Caps who would convert. After, guess who, Marco Sturm poke-checked the puck away at center-ice, Backstrom started a three-on-one break before Alexander Semin finished the play off by flicking the Swede’s pass past Montreal goalie Carey Price. SHUTOUT FOR BRADEN! Caps stonewall Habs, 2-0.
- The first period was the story tonight. Despite Bruce Boudreau telling CSN before the game that he only hoped that the Caps would “weather the storm” in the beginning of the game, the Capitals completely dominated the opening stanza. Washington had nine of the game’s first ten shots, drew three penalties and held a six to three scoring chance advantage. The Capitals also held their opponent without a first period goal for the third straight game. The Bell Centre was not a “Hornet’s nest” as Joe B. described earlier. Instead it was more like a library.
- While the Caps had four power plays on the night, they managed just three chances on the man-advantage. The power play is the team’s biggest hole as we head into the postseason.
- Alexander Semin continued to be his enigmatic self tonight. While he picked up a goal and an assist, Sasha Minor took — you guessed it — an offensive zone penalty and fired five shots wide of the net. [Something about getting Jason Arnott back here.]
- Marco Sturm — who was promoted to the top line — had his best game as a Capital. He finally potted his first goal with the club, a heads-up tap-in on a two-on-one odd man break with Backstrom. What’s that old adage say? Go to the net and good things will happen? Sturm had two points, three shots and was on the ice for eight of the Capitals 13 scoring chances. You can thank Neil for bending the hockey gods to his will. If Sturm can play like that when all the injured Capitals come back healthy, this team will be lethal.
- Sure, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin score all the goals, but the person most vital to the Capitals offense clicking is none other than Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom — who looked like he took it as a personal challenge after the team got shutout for the tenth time last night — rifled six shots at Price, beautifully set up Semin’s third period insurance marker while being on the ice for seven scoring chances for and just one against. When Backstrom was in a funk in the beginning of the year, the team struggled badly. Over the last few weeks, he’s really found his game, and to no surprise, the Capitals can’t stop #winning.
- Horn > siren
- The Habs finished their season series with the Capitals without registering a power play goal, misfiring on 17 straight extra-man opportunities. Tonight also marked the first time Montreal has been shut out in three consecutive games since 1949. Look at their roster back then. Everyone on the team was born in 1920.
- Speaking of shutouts, Braden Holtby recorded his second career blanking tonight — with sass. Holtby stopped 18 shots and with the victory, he also joined Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov as Caps ‘keepers with a least ten wins on the campaign. When both Ian and I talked to Holtby at the AHL All-Star Game, the Saskatchewan-native told us that beating the Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada in front of family and friends was “the highlight of his career “. In total, Holtby stopped 53 of 54 shots while on HNIC and 99 of 102 shots in four games against Canadian teams. Big game Braden stikes again.
- Alan May gets props for correctly stating on CSN’s post-game show that Holtby was “somewhat arrogant in the crease”.
- Bruce Boudreau told reporters post-game that Holtby was “fantastic” and “gave the team a lot of confidence.” Does that mean that Braden has put himself back into the conversation as a potential starter in the playoffs? Probably not, as you don’t want one of the three goaltenders on this team sitting out every game and not having a net during practice. That breeds bad blood. Think back to the situation with Kolzig, Johnson and Huet in 2007. Wait a second! There was a team back then? The Capitals also want Holtby to get more experience and playing time in high-pressure situations. That is guaranteed in Hershey. Think about it, this has been his first full year he’s been a starter in the AHL and he should have an opportunity to do the same in the playoffs — just like Varlamov and Neuvirth. His play actually has larger ramifications for next season and beyond as the Caps will most likely have to pick two-thirds of the trio to go with in the future.
- Did that Lars Eller counter-hit on Karl Alzner in the first period (the video is below) look like a dirty play to you? It sure did to us. Why that wasn’t whistled for interference — especially after how Matt Bradley was given a “boarding” call for his check on Patrick Wiercioch last night — we’ll never understand. On replay, Eller blasted Alzner head-first into the boards several seconds before he even touched the puck. We really don’t understand the officiating sometimes.
- Don Cherry’s plaid magenta suit was horrendous (Joe B.’s brown duds weren’t exactly great either), but it’s actually not that bad when you compare it to some of the other ones Cherry has worn.
Five of the Caps’ remaining six games are against non-playoff teams and Washington sits just two points behind Philadelphia for the number one spot. Yep, it’s going to be an interesting race to the finish.
Additional reporting by Ian Oland, Fedor Fedin and Neil Greenberg.