WASHINGTON — Goaltender Michal Neuvirth made 30 saves as the Washington Capitals broke a three-game losing skid with a 4-1 defeat of the Montreal Canadiens in front of an announced 18,506 fans at the Verizon Center.
Friday night’s contest was the first home game Neuvirth had played in since December 20 and his last started since February 12. Overall, Neuvirth appeared to track the puck and move side-to-side well, while displaying quality rebound control. The lone goal he allowed was on a short-handed odd-man rush in which he was beaten glove side by Rene Bourque for his 17th of the year.
“I felt good the whole game,” said Neuvirth. “We gave up a scoring chance on our power play so we gotta be better on that.
“We needed that [win] big. Every guy stepped up tonight and it was a great effort for two points.”
Capitals head coach Dale Hunter also highly commended Neuvirth’s play.
“He was real solid,” said Hunter. “He didn’t give up many rebounds and I thought the defense did a good job in front of him, not giving them a lot of scoring chances either.”
Mathieu Perreault (11), Jason Chimera (16), Alex Ovechkin (25) and Joel Ward (six) all scored for the Capitals, who are now just two points behind the Winnipeg Jets for first place in the Southeast Division.
Perreault’s goal gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead in the first period – their first lead in the opening frame since February 7 when Washington beat Florida by a score of 4-0. His goal stemmed from defenseman Tomas Kaberle’s inability to tie up the centerman in front of the net.
The Caps added to their lead with goals from Chimera and Ovechkin, which came within 16 seconds of each other in the middle of the second period. Ward added an empty net goal to seal the win late in regulation.
“We had a good first [period],” said Hunter. “We drew a penalty and we scored the first goal. It starts there and we played a sound defensive game after.”
“If you look at the games so far against Montreal, we’ve scored early, and in some cases, we’ve scored two goals early,” said Capitals forward Brooks Laich, whose team moved to 3-0 on the year against Montreal.
“And then it makes them have to risk it and come out of their style of play a little bit. And we’re able to be a little more cautious with the puck and more sound defensively,” he said.
With the victory, the Capitals move to 30-26-5 on the season, with 65 points. They are now tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference – just one point out of the eighth spot, which is currently held by the Florida Panthers.
Montreal remain in last place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 24-28-10, for 58 points.
The Capitals and Maple Leafs play Saturday night in at the Air Canada Centre. The Capitals are two points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the Southeast Division lead, but the Jets have played two games more than the Capitals.
“It’s a win, it’s over now,” said Hunter regarding any momentum the Capitals may have heading into Toronto. “We’re battling with Toronto and it’s a big two points.”
Friday night’s game was Washington’s second-to-last game before Monday’s trade deadline. Team general manager George McPhee has a difficult task at the deadline of deciding whether to be a buyer or a seller, especially considering that star center Nicklas Backstrom may not return to lineup due to a concussion sustained on January 3 versus the Calgary Flames.
If the Capitals are to add pieces, the center is the likely position McPhee would seek on the trade market.