Montreal 2 Washington 4 (Verizon Center)
This should come as no surprise, but I don't stand behind the bench of the Montreal Canadiens to watch games. Head coach Jacques Martin does. Consequently, it's normal for us to have a slightly different perspective about what happens on the ice.
As an example, let's look at the first period of tonight's game.
There was no score after the first period. Shots were 11-to-3 in favor of the Capitals. Washington outhit Montreal 14-to-5. The Canadiens were out-muscled and spent most of the period in their own zone. The only reason that the game was still tied at zero was the superb play of Carey Price.
Now, let's hear from Coach Martin about his thoughts.
"After a pretty even first period, I thought we lost momentum," Martin said. "They took the game away in the second period. They were more on the puck, were more aggressive, won more battles."
Well, I guess the game really looks different from behind the bench.
Granted, the Capitals won more puck battles and were more aggressive but that didn't start in the second period. How is it that the Capitals can dominate in shots on goal, hits, and time in the offensive zone and Martin calls it "a pretty even first period?"
They say that before a problem can be fixed, it has to be acknowledged. Is it possible that there have been no solutions for the issues that plague the Canadiens because Martin doesn't see anything wrong? It was game number 44 tonight. Many of the same challenges that we identified at the beginning of the season, still exist.
The Canadiens continue to play a passive system that easily yields the puck, the neutral zone and the blue-line to the opposition. Habs defensemen back in on their goaltender. Hal Gill followed the system so effectively that he was at the crease to deflect in the second Capitals goal and Gill screened Price for the third goal against.
The initial excitement about Benoit Pouliot is being tempered. Pouliot scored his third goal in a Canadiens jersey but he was also on the ice for three of four Washington goals.
The Canadiens top forward pairing of Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri continues to look lost with the absence of Andrei Kostitsyn. Plekanec and Cammalleri were also punished physically by the Capitals.
The Habs also miss Ryan O'Byrne in the lineup especially for his physical play. Andrei Markov, Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek, Hal Gill, and Josh Gorges, combined, registered a single hit. That's unacceptable for a defense corps that spends too much time chasing puck carriers.
Without the Kostitsyn brothers in the lineup, a spot is open for Georges Laraque. He was on the ice for four shifts totaling 2:42 in ice-time. Laraque had no shots, no hits, and no fights. Which begs the question: what is the point of Laraque continuing to occupy a roster spot?
The officiating crew that included Tim Peel was visible in this game (which is never a good thing), mostly for their non-calls. Mike Knuble slashing Markov's stick and breaking it was probably the most blatant non-penalty call. A moment later, Tomas Fleischmann scored to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead, and they never looked back.
The shots on goal were 43-to-26 for the Capitals which flatter the Canadiens. Washington dominated in every facet of the game except goaltending. Price's solid play was the only reason that the result remained respectable.
When taking more than 40 shots, the Capitals are 7-0-1. Perhaps ensuring that the shot total remained under 40 should have been part of the game plan. Of course, that probably looks much different from behind the bench too.
The Canadiens return home to play the Panthers on Thursday night. Given that Florida sits in 13th place, expect to see Jaroslav Halak in goal.
Rocket's three stars:
1. Alexander Semin
2. Carey Price
3. Tomas Fleischmann
Material from wire services was used in this report.