The Washington Capitals defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 on Saturday afternoon, backed by a 30-save shutout by Tomas Vokoun. Dennis Wideman, Matt Hendricks, and Alexander Semin scored for the Capitals, who won their first road game in more than two weeks, their previous win coming inside the Bell Centre as well, also by way of a 3-0 shutout. With their win, the Capitals are now one point back of the Panthers for the Southeast Division lead, but the Cats hold a game in hand.
The Capitals got off to a good start, forechecking well and getting some chances on Peter Budaj. Slowly, however, the home team began to gain some momentum, getting their electric crowd engaged. But it was the Capitals who broke on top after less than ten minutes when a Dennis Wideman point drive floated its way through the Canadien defense and over Budaj's shoulder. After Wideman's tally, the Caps continued to carry the pace of play, and earned a power play with four minutes left in the period.
Given this chance to put some distance between them and their opponents, however, the Capitals were unable to convert. They got great pressure and zone time early, but sputtered near the end of the two minute power play, even taking an offsides call. Despite their failed power play, though, the Caps were able to keep their lead heading into the intermission.
Montreal came out hard in the second period, forcing turnovers off a forecheck and keeping possession in their attacking zone for long periods. The Canadiens got some tough shots on Vokoun, too, but the veteran managed to hold the fort well through the early going of the middle stanza. But even as the Habs continued to control play, the Caps did little to attempt to attack, instead sitting back on their hosts, and were bailed out by a brilliant Tomas Vokoun with nine minutes gone. Right after that save, Troy Brouwer was sprung on a breakaway, and a beaten Peter Budaj threw his stick to stop Brouwer.
The ensuing penalty shot was stopped by the Slovak goaltender, but Washington was immediately given a power play after a tripping call. Predictably, however, the Caps' power play was listless and achieved nothing. Feeding off a great penalty kill and a saved penalty shot, Montreal began to push once more and almost equalized several times before drawing their first power play with just under four minutes left in the period. The Caps were able to kill of the minor to Mike Knuble effectively, and the period closed still 1-0 in Washington's favor.
Clinging to their advantage, Washington again allowed the Habs to start controlling the game in the early parts of the third period. But Vokoun was able to weather the storm, and the Caps caught a huge break when a Brooks Laich net stuff squeaked out into the slot and Matt Hendricks banged it home into an open goal. Now with a two goal lead to protect, the Capitals went completely in to their shell.
With just over eight minutes left, Alexander Semin was sprung on a breakaway and hooked from behind, giving the Caps their second penalty shot of the afternoon. Semin converted with ease, walking in and blasting a slap shot, from the hash marks, over Budaj's shoulder to make it 3-0. Now firmly ahead, the Caps strolled down the final eight minutes and skated away 3-0 winners.
Alexander Ovechkin was average in his return from a three-game suspension. The russian winger was blanketed by Hal Gill all game long and despite an early physical presence, was not overly involved. He needs to shoot more, as always, but having some rust after a nearly two-week layoff is understandable.
This was a game the Capitals absolutely needed to win. Thankfully, they did. It wasn't particularly pretty and it was against an absolutely terrible team, but they got the job done, picking up two huge points on the road. Now, they have to do it against the Bruins, who are about a hundred times better than the Habs.
The Capitals play the Bruins at 12:30 tomorrow afternoon.