Ovechkin opened the scoring with his NHL-leading 36th goal of the season in his return to the lineup and the Capitals scored more goals in the second period than they did in their four previous games in a 5-0 win against a listless Canadiens team Saturday at Bell Centre.
"We needed that," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "I was a little worried; we had a good first period and didn't get anything out of it. We had some good chances and I was thinking, 'Here we go again.' But the power play got us going. The second period was a little bit fluky, but it was our turn to get a break."
Capitals goalie Braden Holtby made 21 saves for his second shutout of the season and the ninth of his career. It may have been his easiest one, with Montreal registering the great majority of its shots long after the game was out of reach, and few of them were very dangerous.
The Canadiens were being outshot 26-3 when John Carlson made it 4-0 for the Capitals at 10:31 of the second period. Montreal coach Michel Therrien then pulled goaltender Carey Price for the second time in three games.
Price made 22 saves. Peter Budaj stopped seven of eight shots in relief.
The Canadiens got their first shot on goal in the second period about two minutes later when Daniel Briere took a shot from the top of the faceoff circle at 12:45, triggering a big round of sarcastic applause from the Bell Centre crowd.
"It's probably the biggest cheer I ever got for making a save," Holtby said.
When Casey Wellman made it 5-0 for the Capitals at 8:38 of the third, the Montreal fans cheered.
"We're the only ones to blame for that. The way we're playing, we deserve it," Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec said. "But we're going to get through it. We're going to get back the cheers and the happy faces again, because we're strong enough to get through it."
Montreal (27-20-5) has lost four straight in regulation by a combined score of 19-5, and the Habs have allowed at least four goals in six straight, losing five of those games.
Their poor play stretches even further than that. In their past 21 games dating to a 6-0 home loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 10, the Canadiens have allowed 50 goals at 5-on-5 and scored 24; they've been outshot 607-552 overall.
"I think there were a lot of games before this losing streak where our goalies kept us in the games," Canadiens center Lars Eller said. "We were not lucky, but we were finding ways to win games 2-1 or 3-2. We're not scoring as much as last year. We know we've got it within this room; we just need to go back to doing the things we did before. We know we've got it in here. We're not looking for something we don't have; we know we have it in here."
The Canadiens were second in the Atlantic Division prior to that game against the Kings, one point behind the Boston Bruins and 10 points clear of the top non-playoff team in the Eastern Conference. They had won five games in a row and nine of their previous 10, and they appeared to be placing themselves in position to battle for first in the East.
In spite of the poor play since that game, the Canadiens have only dropped to fourth in the Atlantic Division, but they are now four points away from being out of a playoff spot.
"As badly as things have gone, things could definitely be a lot worse," Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty said. "Our game can't get any worse, but we could be on the outside looking in. The good thing about this is we have a chance to turn it around, but nobody's going to help us do that. The only way we'll do that is in this room, so we need to find a way to do it."
The Capitals (23-21-8) entered the game with three goals in their four previous games and eight goals during their seven-game losing streak (0-5-2), one that has pushed them out of a playoff spot in the East. But four goals in less than nine minutes of the second period allowed them to start the climb back in the standings to where they once were.
Oates made sure to point out the Capitals must carry the momentum into their game Tuesday at the Buffalo Sabres.
"We've had a lot of stress lately, so I'll let the guys enjoy this, but it's one [win]," he said. "Buffalo beat [the] Columbus [Blue Jackets] tonight, so they're obviously playing better and here we go.
"Every night it's a dogfight, and we need wins."
Ovechkin's goal at 1:46 of the second showed off his tremendous hands, something the Capitals were lacking while he sat out the previous two games with a lower-body injury. After Price made a blocker save on Jason Chimera from in tight, the puck bounced off to the side of the net. Ovechkin juggled the puck with his stick to settle it down before banking it in off Price to get the Capitals on the board.
"It's a big win, a good win for the boys and for [Holtby] as well, it brings confidence back," Ovechkin said. "In this building it's an exciting place to play hockey, so it's good."
John Erskine scored his first goal of the season at 3:05 of the second on a slow roller that squeaked through Price's legs as Brooks Laich and P.K. Subban were engaged in a battle for position in front of him.
Jay Beagle also scored his first of the season at 6:21 on a nice tic-tac-toe play that began when Mike Green sent a pass through the slot to Tom Wilson, who immediately found Beagle on the other side of the net for an easy tap-in.
Carlson's ninth of the season at 10:31 was a soft shot from the point that Montreal defenseman Nathan Beaulieu inadvertently tipped past Price.
Wellman, who was called up from Hershey of the American Hockey League earlier in the day, made it 5-0 when he beat Budaj off an Ovechkin feed on a 2-on-1 break in the third for his first goal with the Capitals.