MONTREAL – Shutting out the Canadiens in Montreal has become somewhat routine for the Washington Capitals.
Tomas Vokoun made 30 saves to shut out the team that drafted for the first time in 21 career appearances and Dennis Wideman, Matt Hendricks and Alexander Semin scored to give the Capitals a 3-0 win Saturday afternoon at Bell Centre.
"He was solid," Brooks Laich said of his goaltender. "He never put himself in any trouble."
The Capitals (27-20-4) ran their record in Montreal to 5-0-1 in their last six visits, a run that includes shutout victories March 26, 2011, and Jan. 18, 2012, as well as Saturday’s win.
The last time the Canadiens (19-24-9) scored a goal against Washington in their own building was at 3:28 of the second period of a 4-2 loss on March 15, 2011; they've gone scoreless in 216:32 since then.
Peter Budaj got his eighth start in goal for the Canadiens and was tagged with his fifth loss.
With the return of captain Alex Ovechkin from suspension buoying them, the Capitals snapped a two-game winless slide heading into a big Sunday matinee at home against the struggling Boston Bruins, while the Canadiens' descent towards the bottom of the NHL standings continued unabated with a third straight defeat.
The Capitals were given two penalty shots in the game, one for Troy Brouwer after Budaj threw his stick at him and another for Semin when he was hooked by Tomas Kaberle on a third-period breakaway. Budaj shut the five-hole on Brouwer at 9:14 of the second, but he had zero chance on Semin’s booming slap shot under the crossbar from between the circles at 11:57 of the third.
"I don’t think any goalie can react on that shot," said Ovechkin, who registered a shot on goal in 19:57 of ice time.
The major subplot for the Canadiens fans – many of them children for the team’s traditional family weekend of matinees on Super Bowl weekend – was whether Scott Gomez could avoid hitting the one-year mark since his last goal. Gomez last scored on Feb. 5, 2011 against his former team, the New York Rangers, but Saturday marked his 58th game – regular season and playoffs combined – since then.
A frequent target of the Bell Centre boobirds this season, Gomez received rousing applause each time he touched the puck as the crowd was either willing him to score or simply showing their displeasure with him in a more sarcastic way.
"I hope it was encouragement, because the guy’s been through a lot. Since he’s been back (from injury) he’s been one of our better players," said defenseman Chris Campoli. "I hope the cheers were for the right reasons because he’s a class act and he’s well respected in this dressing room."
In either case, Gomez didn’t deliver and will now go into Sunday’s matinee against the Winnipeg Jets having gone a full calendar year between goals, a span over which he has registered 122 shots on goal and 29 different Canadiens players have scored 211 times.
Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth, however, appeared to be completely unaware of the significance of the game for Gomez and supported the way he has played of late.
"I’m not sure exactly what that’s all about, to be honest. Maybe somebody can enlighten me," said Cunneyworth, who likely has other things on his mind after the Canadiens dropped to 6-12-2 since he took over as head coach. "If it’s encouragement, great; that’s obviously what we would want our fans to be doing. I see Scotty working hard, trying to make things happen. Generally he’s been pretty sound in his own end. As far as offense, I see him moving pucks up, trying to hit guys moving on the rush and trying to get some pucks deep into the corner and trying to recover them. That’s what the game is all about. If the fans are encouraging him, I’m all for it."
The Capitals managed to score a very strange goal at 8:10 of the first when Wideman completely whiffed on his point shot, but the puck fluttered in the air through a crowd and floated in past a bewildered Budaj. Wideman celebrated by hunching over and looking at his skates, looking as though he was embarrassed to score.
"It just went straight up," said Wideman, still a bit embarrassed afterwards. "You want to score goals, but when they go in like that you don’t know what to do. Things aren’t going well for them, and when it’s going that way it seems like goals like that go in. I’ve been on the other end of it before."
Hendricks made it 2-0 at 6:11 of the third when he pounced on a rebound of a Brooks Laich stuff attempt from behind the net, and Semin completed the scoring with his bomb on the penalty shot at 11:57.