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Canadiens @ Capitals game recap: Capital punishment

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The Canadiens took on the best team in the NHL right now, and put on a clinic.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off back-to-back 3-2 wins over the Kings and Blue Jackets respectively, the Montreal Canadiens traveled to Washington on Friday to face the NHL leading Capitals in their biggest test of the young season. After two close games against basement-dwellers, it was imperative for them to bring their best against the cream of the crop in either conference as of this writing.

This easily marked the toughest outing the Habs had to this point of the year, and one would hope they’d be up for it. They absolutely were.

The first period was incredibly fast paced, and through the first 10 minutes there were a total of maybe three stoppages. Washington had the better early chances, but Carey Price clearly came to play. In the latter half of the period, the Habs began to generate some chances of their own, but the young rookie Ilya Samsonov was a worthy adversary in his own right.

The Habs’ late period push really showed in the shot total, as Samsonov was the much busier goaltender with 15 first period saves to Price’s eight. It all added up to a very entertaining, yet scoreless game heading into the intermission.

The early second period was much of the same, with the goaltenders taking centre stage amid some fast-paced action. As can happen in fast-paced games, a scary moment occured when Alexander Ovechkin came off his feet to lay a vicious hit on Jonathan Drouin. Inexplicably, the officials decided to leave this unpunished, much to the chagrin of the Habs bench.

But the Canadiens got their revenge on the scoreboard. Tomas Tatar found Phillip Danault all alone in front of Samsonov, and the latter showed some slick hands before finishing up high with the backhand. 1-0 for the visitors and they seemed to be gaining momentum.

And they didn’t wait long to add to the lead. After another Danault chance, the puck made it’s way to the blue line, where Ben Chiarot found Shea Weber for an absolute laser beam of a one-timer. 2-0 for the good guys.

But wait... There’s more! Jordan Weal, making his return to the lineup, did a nice loop around the Washington defense before sending a sneaky backhander far-side to make it 3-0 for the Tricolore.

If you weren’t entertained by that point, well, they still weren’t done. The Habs would get the first power play of the game, but couldn’t find the net. However, seconds after the penalty expired, Nick Suzuki managed to bank it in off a defender’s stick while looking for Brendan Gallagher out front. 4-0 for a Habs team who really turned it on after the Drouin injury.

Fortunately for the home fans, the onslaught stopped there, but the Canadiens absolutely took over the game in the second, and they brought a well-deserved four-goal lead into the dressing room where Drouin was hopefully doing alright.

Which turned out to be the case, as the Habs welcomed back their points leader to start the second. And as if unsatisfied with a four goal lead, they went right back to work putting pressure on the caps, getting several good chances to start the final frame.

But the one thing you can’t do against the Capitals is take penalties. A Jeff Petry interference call gave the extremely potent Washington power play an opportunity, and Ovechkin predictably found the net with a one-timer. That made it 4-1, but there wasn’t much clock left to work with for the home squad.

Of course, with just under five minutes to play, Evgeny Kuznetsov was sent in alone on a breakaway, and as good as Carey Price is, he couldn’t do anything to prevent the other Russian forward from making it 4-2.

The Caps almost immediately pulled Samsonov to get the extra skater with still over three minutes to play. There was some danger for the first minute or so, but after an offside forced a faceoff just outside the Habs blue line, Tomas Tatar found the empty net to make it 5-2.

And that was all she wrote. With the victory, the Habs became the first team in the Eastern Conference to defeat the Capitals this season, and they did so in style through absolute dominance. Back in action tomorrow against the lowly Devils, and you have to feel good about tonight after what they did on Friday.

Thoughts

  • It really was a dominant effort. At even strength, they managed 58.62% Corsi-For, 56.86% scoring chances for, 58.82% high-danger chances for, and an expected goals for of 59.77%. Few will be able to say they expected that good of a performance against the best team in the league right now. It was quite the effort.
  • Alexander Ovechkin’s hit was absolutely disgusting. But I’ll stop there, as I plan to have an article coming out about it later for any interested parties. I will say that it was great to see Drouin get back out there in the third.
  • On a night where he wasn’t all that busy, Carey Price managed to look great yet again. Particularly in the first period when Washington came out flying, he made a number of quality saves that set the tone and let his team get their feet under them. Once they did, they made it a rather uneventful night for him until the third period.
  • I mentioned in the article that Drouin was the team’s point leader. He isn’t anymore, as Tomas Tatar passed him with four points on the night. Nick Suzuki also found the scoresheet, and has been getting better, so that Max Pacioretty trade is really paying dividends this season.
  • Special mention for Phillip Danault to close this recap. Three points on the night, and he’s on pace for a career year. You heard it here first, folks... Drake predicts that he’s going to win the Selke.