By Reed S. Albers
It’s funny how hockey works sometimes.
The Washington Capitals, who own the fourth-best home record in the NHL (17-6-1), played a stinker against a lowly New York Islanders Tuesday in front of their fans and lost 3-0.
Just 24 hours later on the road, where Washington has struggled mightily (7-12-1, the league’s fourth-worst road record), the Caps and goaltender Michal Neuvirth posted a 3-0 shutout over the Montreal Canadiens in Bell Centre.
Also, consider that the Caps were outshot 31-16, which in recent games has been a death knell for the team.
Instead of succumbing to the shot total, the Caps seemingly buried every opportunistic chance the Canadiens offered and instead of scrambling in the third period to hold their lead, they cruised to a win behind a stellar penalty killing effort.
Talk about an overnight turnaround, but it’s exactly what the Caps needed coming into their game with the Habs.
After closing out their four-game homestand with a goalless effort, the Caps needed to show that Tuesday was just a hiccup, not the beginning of a trend.
The Caps did that by coming out with an intensity that Tuesday lacked.
Matt Hendricks started the night by finishing up some business with former Calgary Flame Rene Bourque, who was suspended for a head shot on Nicklas Backstrom January 3 and moments later, Mathieu Perrault potted his fourth goal of the season.
Marcus Johansson made it 2-0 four minutes later and at the end of one period it was clear that despite the low shot total (just five after one period), the Caps weren’t about to let another two points slip away.
The rest of the game was highlighted by Neuvirth’s play, an Alex Ovechkin power play goal and a Herculean penalty killing effort in the third period. John Erskine was awarded a rare six minutes of penalty time for an elbow and high stick, but the Canadiens were unable to break Neuvirth’s shutout bid.
For the Caps, the win is points made up for the previous night where a win was more than attainable had they given the effort. Now the focus has to be turning the current three-game road swing into a bountiful one.
Wins over Carolina and Pittsburgh could help create some distance in the Southeast Division race with the Florida Panthers and the sooner Washington makes a gap the better.
Time isn’t necessarily running out by any means at all, but if it takes a flop to motivate a win, then the Caps could be in trouble.