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Canadiens vs. Capitals game recap: Battle of the Backups

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The Montreal Canadiens come out on top in a low-scoring affair.

Montreal Canadiens v Washington Capitals Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

After a drubbing at the hands of their arch-rivals, the Montreal Canadiens looked to regroup against the Washington Capitals. Both teams started their backup goaltenders, as Antti Niemi faced off against Philipp Grubauer.

It was the Canadiens who would get the first scoring chance of the game in the opening minutes of the first. Artturi Lehkonen’s strong drive nearly put his team on the board first, but he was turned aside by Grubauer.

Image credit: HockeyStats.ca

A later sequence saw the Canadiens take a few whacks at the puck near the Washington goal line, while Grubauer was struggling to get back into position. But neither Max Pacioretty nor Paul Byron were able to sneak the puck past the desperate Capitals backup.

With less than three minutes left on the clock, Karl Alzner was called for slashing. Though the Capitals got a few good looks, the Canadiens penalty-killers were more than up to the task. Montreal’s strong defensive effort kept it a scoreless game.

Despite the late push, neither team managed to put many shots on net as the period came to a close. The Canadiens had put only eight shots on Grubauer, who thwarted every attempt by Montreal to get on the board first.

In a reversal of fortunes, it was the Canadiens who began the second frame on the man advantage. Victor Mete drew a hooking call against Alex Ovechkin less than three minutes in, giving Montreal a 5-on-4 opportunity. Though the Canadiens couldn’t quite beat Grubauer on that power play, they would strike on the next.

With Tom Wilson in the box for hooking, Pacioretty fired a shot past Grubauer to give the Canadiens a 1-0 lead. Jonathan Drouin and Brendan Gallagher grabbed assists on the captain’s 13th goal of the season.

But Montreal’s lead was short-lived. With Drouin serving time for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty just over halfway through the period, John Carlson tied the game for Washington.

Special teams play continued to dominate the end of the period, as the Canadiens got caught with too many men on the ice. This gave the Capitals the chance to end the period on the man advantage, though they were unable to use it to grab the lead.

The third period started with a bang, as it took just two minutes for Nicolas Deslauriers and Tom Wilson to drop their gloves. Deslauriers held his own in the bout, despite ending up with a bloody nose. Both players got five minutes for fighting, while Wilson got an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. Fortune did not favour the Canadiens, as Grubauer turned away every shot on that power play.

Less than two minutes after the Wilson penalty expired, a tripping call went against Andre Burakovsky to put Montreal back on the power play. But the closest the Canadiens would come to regaining the lead was an Alex Galchenyuk shot that rang off the post.

A lack of success on 5-on-4 play didn’t hold the team back, as Paul Byron allowed Montreal to regain its lead just over halfway through the third. Converting a Pacioretty pass, Byron’s 13th of the season made it 2-1 for the Canadiens.

The Washington Capitals pulled their goalie to knot the game at two, but Pacioretty scored an empty-netter to put his team up by two.

Though the Capitals would get within one on a last-minute Lars Eller goal, it was the Canadiens who skated away with the 3-2 win.

Thoughts

  • Max Pacioretty has returned to form. The Captain had two goals and put up three points in this game. He was involved in every single Montreal goal, and the Canadiens controlled over 59% of shot attempts while he was on the ice. Though it is a small sample size, he now has six goals and eight points in his last six games.
  • Antti Niemi got his first win in a Canadiens uniform. Niemi made 24 saves and posted a .923 save percentage to give Montreal the win. It was a well-earned victory and a confidence-booster for the goaltender, who had lost all of the previous games he had started this season.
  • Neither team looked particularly interested in winning this game. The lacklustre pace, lack of shots and steady stream of penalties slowed the game to a crawl. It was not until the final minutes of the third period, that both teams displayed a sense of urgency, with the Canadiens getting rewarded for being the hungrier team.