With Carey Price facing off against his primary competition for the Hart Memorial Trophy this season in Alex Ovechkin, all eyes were on the ensuing showdown. Though you can't really pin any of the goals against him as weak, Price put up his worst performance since January 22nd of 2014, which was a bit of a disappointment considering the hype going in.
Ovechkin, for his part, scored two goals, one of which was absolutely absurd in an "Only Ovechkin could do that" way, blitzing into the Canadiens zone right through a Brandon Prust check, deking around P.K. Subban, and firing a lightning-fast wrister through Price. Following along on Twitter, even though the goal ended up giving the Washington Capitals a lead, there weren't very many upset fans of the Montreal Canadiens. The goal was just too good to be upset about.
Ovechkin's goal was the first of three powerplay goals for the Capitals on four opportunities, on just five shots, a brutal night on the penalty kill. Fortunately, the Canadiens coupled that brutal night shorthanded with one of their best even strength performances of the season, limiting the Caps to just 14 shots at even strength, and controlling 59% of shot attempts.
The pressure the Canadiens were able to apply at even strength was very impressive, and allowed them to turn around a four minute period where they went from leading 1-0 to trailing 2-1 around, scoring two quick goals in the four and a half minutes that followed. First, Tom Gilbert converted on a great pass from P.A. Parenteau, then Lars Eller hammered home a fantastic feed from Dale Weise.
Even the powerplay finally clicked, with Subban doing what Subban does, scoring the game-tying goal in the final five minutes to send the game to overtime. His 15th goal of the season represents a career high. Subban also notched two assists in the game, bringing him to 57 on the year, first in the NHL for defensemen who are actually defensemen (Sorry Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns). He also leads the NHL in even strength points by a defenseman with 37. Might be time we start the Norris campaign.
When the game finally went to a shootout, we were treated to round 2 of the Ovechkin vs Price showdown, with Price taking this one, making a spectacular save on an excellent move. But it wasn't enough, because none of the Canadiens chosen for the shootout could beat Braden Holtby, and Troy Brouwer managed to beat Price glove side with a quick wrist shot.
Reason for optimism
The Canadiens' possession game has begun to rebound a bit, with strong games against San Joe, Nashville, Winnipeg, and now Washington, with poor games against Florida and Tampa Bay sandwiched in between.
Although they're still not a positive possession team over that period, they've crawled their way back to to near the middle tier of the league after being on the bottom rung with Buffalo for most of March. Of all the games they played though, this one seemed the most organized, and the Capitals are a very strong even strength team. The Habs still took them to the woodshed pretty hard.
Arpon Basu mentioned that he had noticed that the Canadiens had started activating their defense more in the neutral zone in order to create more controlled zone entries the last few games, but this was the first time it clicked well and everyone looked on the same page, and it was very successful.
If Michel Therrien wasn't being truthful about sticking to the system, the Canadiens could possibly surprise teams in the postseason. They don't need to be possession beasts to beat teams with Carey Price being who he is, just being close to even could be enough to win a couple rounds.
Reason for pessimism
Anyone want to guess Carey Price's save percentage in his last four starts? Would you be shocked to learn that it's 88.8%? A part of that is just how brutal his save percentage looked after the Capitals game, but he didn't put up a save percentage above league average in any of those starts. For the first time this season, Price is struggling a bit.
No one should expect Price to crash and burn or anything, but the question remains what he will bounce back to. If he goes back to saving 95% of shots like he did for a 35 game stretch, the Habs are in a great situation, but that's unlikely. If he stops his season average percent of shots, 93.5%, that's pretty great too. But he he sticks at around 92% the rest of the regular season and playoffs, the Habs could be in real trouble unless the system changes Arpon observed are here to stay.