MONTREAL – Well, that’s a change of pace. Saturday night’s Capitals were back to normal – that is to say, back to looking like a first-place team after a poor showing in Ottawa.
Everything was back in the 2-0 victory over the Canadiens at Bell Centre: Physical play, sustained offensive pressure and solid goaltending. Only the latter was present Friday night against the Senators.
“We came out with a lot more energy this game than against Ottawa,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “All the guys were into it – we worked their D, we got the puck deep and we had a lot of scoring chances.”
So as much credit as Braden Holtby (18 saves) deserves for picking up his second career shutout, this one was more about the rest of the Caps picking up their game.
“[The Canadiens] made a bit of a push in the second period, but other than that they didn’t really get much,” Holtby said. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I think it was more a credit to us. We stuck to our system all game, we forechecked as best as you can, and I think that was the main reason why they didn’t get many opportunities.”
Marco Sturm’s goal 1:24 in showed that they could certainly match Montreal’s intensity. Players and coach Bruce Boudreau expected the Habs to come out angry after getting smoked 7-0 in Boston on Thursday. Instead, they faltered yet again, and the Caps pounced.
Sturm’s first goal of the season came as a result of a nice pass from Backstrom on the rush that drew a healthy amount of boos from the charged-up crowd.
“I think when Marco got that first goal, it really took a load off our shoulders,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Backstrom set up the Caps’ second goal on a feed to Alexander Semin late in the third.
Montreal goalie Carey Price was the only reason the Caps didn’t pour it on even more, as he did his usual magic act of keeping his team in the game. But the offense – despite chances – couldn’t crack Holtby and thus the Habs were shut out for three games in a row for the first time since October 1949.
As for the Caps in 2011, they kept pace with the Eastern Conference-leading Flyers, even though Bruce Boudreau and players have admitted it’s going to be tough to grab the No. 1 seed. But with this victory they at least kept that lofty goal within reach.
“It’s always good to win hockey games, especially against Montreal here,” Backstrom said. “We can take our confidence back home and hopefully we can start winning at home, too.”