An opportunistic foe and an offense that got started too late led to only the second regulation loss at Verizon Center this season for the Washington Capitals.
The Montreal Canadiens scored three times in a seven-shot stretch, and Carey Price made 32 saves Friday night to fend off the late-charging Caps 3-2.
Washington goaltender Michal Neuvirth stopped all 14 shots he faced in the opening period of his first start this season, but he got to only five of eight in the final 40 minutes as Montreal became more conservative in an attempt to protect the lead.
“They played a really smart game,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said of the Canadiens. “It is easy to rip on our players and our team when you lose to a team below you in the standings, but I thought Montreal played a strong game.
“The biggest thing is we weren’t ready to play at the start of the game. We came out flat. We thought, ‘Oh, we’re the Washington Capitals and we’re going to go out there for an easy win.’ There are no easy wins in the National Hockey League. When we got the sense of urgency in the last two periods… sometimes it is too late when the other goaltender is on top of his game.”
Brendan Morrison backhanded the rebound of a Mike Green shot from the top of the zone past Price with 2:32 remaining to cut the lead to 3-2. It was Morrison’s seventh of the season. The Caps had a power play for the final 1:52 but could not muster an equalizer. One of Green’s blasts hit the right post and squirted free, but Price lost his helmet and play had to be stopped.
The Caps dominated the final 13 minutes of the second period, but the first seven were a problem. Montreal’s Travis Moen tipped in a shot from the left point by Roman Hamrlik to level the score at 1-1 3:59 into the period.
Morrison dived to try to block Tomas Plekanec’s shot from between the circles, but it glanced off his hand and between Neuvirth’s legs at 6:46 to give the Canadiens the lead. Montreal had only four shots in the period - and none in the final 11:54 - but none of Washington’s 11 shots in the second bested goalie Price.
“We made 14 mistakes before the [second goal] got in the net, but that wasn’t his fault,” Boudreau said of his goaltender. “He did what a starting pitcher is supposed to do - keep you in the game. We didn’t take advantage of it.”
Eric Fehr had the lone goal of the first period at 11:52. After Green dumped the puck into the Montreal zone to facilitate a line change, Mathieu Perreault was the first one on it and controlled the puck in the corner while waiting for his linemates to arrive.
Perreault fought off two Canadiens defenders and sent the puck to Fehr near the left circle, and he snapped a shot into the top right corner of the net for his third goal of the season.
“[Perreault] went in the corner and brought it for me, and I just got a lucky shot off,” Fehr said. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to go in [the corner] and help him out, but he looked like he was doing all right, so I stayed back and waited for him to give me the puck.”
After taking no minor penalties in the first 40 minutes, the Caps were tagged with three in the final period, and the third led to Montreal’s third goal. Mike Cammalleri blasted a one-timer from just above the right faceoff dot 22 seconds after Brooks Laich went to the box for tripping to make it 3-1 at 12:29.
Washington was without seven players from the opening night roster (Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble, Boyd Gordon, Quintin Laing, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn and Jose Theodore), and Tom Poti left the game in the second period with an upper body injury and did not return.
Without Poti, Tyler Sloan moved back to his normal position on defense, and the Caps went with 11 forwards. After beginning the game with Tomas Fleischmann on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, Boudreau shuffled his lines twice during the game trying to find the right combinations. Both Matt Bradley and Morrison spent time on the Ovechkin-Backstrom line.