The Caps had the first of a number of upcoming challenges tonight. Neuvy was in net again, which surprised me, but was probably a good decision (though not if the decision was based purely on how he played last game. Playing the "hot hand" is not a good way to decide the lineup).
The Caps certainly got off to a fine start. The Caps had nine shots in the first six minutes, and were showing some very good pressure. But things started leveling off very quickly after that, as the period finished with the Caps having only eleven shots. And in the meanwhile, the Canadiens showed some pressure of their own, and scored a goal when they carried in on a rush, went past the goal, and threw it back to the front of the net. Brouwer was the only defender in front, and he was guilty of watching the play behind instead of tying up the man in front. Neuvy had no chance on that one at all; dumb luck of the shot going into him would have been the only way he could have stopped it.
And the second did not start well either, as they came out to find that OV had been charged with a slashing call as time expired in the first. Montreal kept up some really tough pressure during that power play, but was unable to find the net. I was hoping OV would get a breakaway coming out of the box, but it was not to be.
In fact, the play for the rest of the period was largely in Montreal's favor, as they nearly removed the imbalances on shots and scoring chances. But the Caps had a couple of very nice plays. One had a 3-on-3 carry-in, where Carlson ended up dumping to the trailer (OV), who carried through a Habs forward and threw the puck at the opposite side of the net. He didn't appear to have an angle, but apparently appearances were deceiving, as it found the back of the net (I was sure, until the replay, that it had been deflected by MarJo just in front of the net).
The Caps got another goal a couple minutes later when Oleksy pinched in and threw the puck across the rink. Hillen pinched in to pick it up, and threw it at the net, where Fehr deflected it enough for it to bounce over Price, off the back of Price's leg, and into the net.
So scoring in both periods went to the team that was possessionally dominated. Weird game. But the Caps did manage double-digit shots in both periods, so it wasn't all bad.
The third period was about even, without a whole lot of shots getting past the defenders. The Caps extended their lead about five minutes in when there was an absolute mess of play in the high slot (several consecutive turnovers) and the puck got dumped back to Hillen. Jack didn't play around, throwing the puck at the net (just over the defender who slid in front of him), where it found the top corner.
After that, the Caps were largely playing defense under a lot of Canadiens pressure. It got even worse when Eller (who had scored the first goal as well) deflected a point shot into the net with 3:32 left to cut the margin in half.
When Price left for the bench, it did not get any better, although there was one bit of weirdness. OV got the puck near the red line, and threw it towards the goal (but wide). He was called for icing, which is, I think, the correct call, but it was a bit weird insofar as dump-ins from that spot are generally not called for icing (it happens several times every game).
Anyway, despite a pig-pile in front of the Caps goal as time expired, the Caps did manage to skate away with the win.
The national media seems to have latched on to the Caps merely feasting on the weak teams in the Southeast, so I wonder how this game will affect that view.
OV continued his hot streak, with another goal (keeping him ahead of Stamkos for the league lead).
Neuvy was excellent, as he had a number of terrific saves and neither goal could be considered his fault.
Erat wasn't able to play, but did practice a little bit. I hope he comes back soon; this is encouraging. Laich, meanwhile, went to a groin specialist in Minnesota instead of traveling with the team. Encouraging? Not!
Erskine had a very good game with many blocks, and pretty decent overall play.
Hillen had a great game, as he broke a 44-game goalless streak and added another assist, to boot.
Wolski managed to get out of the press box, finally, but didn't do much with his seven minutes. I'm very disappointed he hasn't managed to displace Volpatti, at least. Speaking of whom, Volpatti actually looked fairly decent tonight (it might be the first time all season I noticed him in a good way).
The Caps were pretty heavily outshot, overall, as they were outshot by a hair, and had 24 more blocked shots than the Habs.
I'm actually still not feeling that great about their chances of making noise in the playoffs, but it's always good to beat a good team, and they did that tonight.
Winnipeg also won, to keep pace with the Caps, but I still expect them to fade back further, given their (highly negative) goal differential. Tampa also kept pace, but that might work in the Caps favor, as they defeated Ottawa. The Caps are now tied with the Senators and Islanders for fifth in the conference in points.
The Caps now get a chance to pad their division lead with Carolina on Thursday and Tampa on Saturday, both at home. Then the sledding gets mighty tough, as they'll face Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal in order. Go Caps!