MONTREAL — It’s funny what a little fresh, cold Canadian air can do to a Washington Capitals team that has struggled so mightily on the road this season.
Several months’ worth of woes and an embarrassing home loss to the New York Islanders a day earlier were erased for at least one night as they waxed the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 on Wednesday night at Bell Centre on the strength of Michal Neuvirth’s dominance and some timely offense.
“I just shook his hand. I thought Michal was exceptional,” forward Brooks Laich said. “He made the saves, he covered the rebounds, he kicked things to the corner. He was tremendous. I thought Michal was great tonight.”
It was only fitting that the (almost) hometown boy, the NHL superstar and the downtrodden goalie were the stars of the night as the Caps won away from home for just the second time in their past seven opportunities.
Mathieu Perreault was all smiles earlier Wednesday when talking about his return to the lineup after three games as a healthy scratch. The 24-year-old grew up in Drummondville, Quebec, about an hour outside Montreal; he rooted for the Canadiens and had about 15 friends and family members in attendance.
“Every time I’m in the lineup, I feel pressure to perform so I can be in there next game,” he said. “Get a goal, for me was huge especially having [not] scored in almost 20 games, it’s a big goal for me.”
Alex Ovechkin definitely isn’t going anywhere, but the Caps’ success is predicated on his. They’re now 22-5-1 when he records a point, as his power-play goal put this game out of reach. It was his 10th point in 11 regular-season games at Bell Centre.
“This is one of my favorite cities to play in. … It’s a place when you know that people are crazy about hockey,” Ovechkin said Wednesday afternoon. “Canada love hockey. It’s nice to be a part of that, and it’s nice when you get attention, and it’s nice when you get that kind of opportunity to show who you are and show how good you are.”
It wouldn’t have mattered to Neuvirth if Wednesday night’s game was in Siberia — this was a chance for him to show how good he is in his first start since Dec. 26. That night at the Buffalo Sabres he got the hook after allowing three goals on six shots and only saw relief duty since.
In Montreal, he was nothing short of magnificent. Given a lead to work with, the 23-year-old recorded his second shutout of the season on 31 saves. No time was the netminder better than during a triple-minor penalty on John Erskine in the third period.
Neuvirth’s other shutout this year came in December at the Winnipeg Jets, and this one almost certainly has earned him another start Friday in Carolina when the Caps continue their road trip against the Hurricanes.
“I was a little nervous before the game, and obviously I felt rested,” Neuvirth said. “I think I made a couple big saves [early] and I settled down. I felt great the rest of the way.”
Restless Canadiens fans rained down boos on their underachieving team as power play after power play — seven total — went awry, and they were unable to crack Neuvirth despite a bevy of chances. Meanwhile, the Caps were outshot yet again, 31-16, but came away with their fourth win in five games.
“We wanted to bounce back. We were disappointed with our effort [Tuesday],” Laich said. “This is a team that was chasing us in the standings, so we wanted to bounce back and get a win. I thought we played a good game … and we’re a happy bunch.”
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