MONTREAL -- The way bodies are dropping around the Washington Capitals of late, chemistry is being developed more out of necessity than anything else.
Some of that on-the-fly chemistry paid big dividends again Tuesday night by producing the deciding goal in the Capitals ninth-straight win, a 4-2 decision against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
Rookie center Marcus Johansson stepped into the void created by injuries to Nicklas Backstrom and Jason Arnott to notch his second two-goal game of the season, with the latter of the two coming off a pass from third period linemate Alexander Ovechkin that gave his team a 3-2 lead it wouldn't relinquish.
So, how did that chemistry develop so quickly?
"Well, we have to find it," said Ovechkin, whose assist gave him 12 points over the nine-game winning streak. "(Backstrom) is out, and right now (Arnott) is out and (Brooks Laich) is playing center and he did a good job. Everybody has to step up for each other and find a way to play good for each other."
In fact, Brooks Laich also scored, meaning the center position accounted for three-quarters of the Capitals offence on a night they were missing their top two centers.
"I think everybody stepped up," Johansson said. "It was two pretty easy goals, but it feels good to put them in."
Johansson's game-winner came at the 6:43 mark of the third period on Washington's 38th shot of the game on Canadiens goalie Carey Price, who finished with 37 saves and was the lone reason the game wasn't a total blowout.
No one would have blamed some of the Capitals for feeling a certain sense of déjà vu, considering this was their first game in Montreal since Game 6 of the first round of last spring's playoffs, when former Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak stopped 53 shots in a 4-1 victory.
But Laich said it couldn't have been further from his mind.
"I hadn't thought about that until you just raised it," Laich said with a laugh. "I can see you guys sitting up top and thinking that, but it didn't enter my mind until just now."
Price very nearly pulled the same trick as Halak, stopping 31 shots before the second intermission including a furious flurry of at least five in about 15 seconds midway through the middle frame. At one point in the second period, chants of "MVP, MVP" rained down from the upper reaches of the Bell Centre after a particularly startling Price stop.
"I didn't know if we were going to be able to get another goal because he was outstanding," Boudreau said. "He was just outstanding. But he's been like that all year long, I shouldn't expect anything less."
The Capitals remained one point behind Philadelphia for first in the Eastern Conference after the Flyers won 3-2 in Florida, though they hold two games in hand on Washington.
Montreal fell to four points behind Boston in the Northeast Division standings after the Bruins pulled out a shootout win in Columbus.
"It's just one of those years, I don't know what's happening," Canadiens center Scott Gomez said. "When you lose two guys like that it's tough, but the guys battled in the third. It's just the way the League is going this year … it seems every team is getting the injury bug."
The Capitals (41-20-10) would be one of those teams, with Backstrom, Arnott, defensemen Mike Green and Tom Poti and goaltender Semyon Varlamov out. Forward Eric Fehr may have added himself to that list, leaving the game in the second period and not returning.
"He's got an upper body injury and it'll be day-to-day," Boudreau said. "We were told to keep him out the rest of the game, we'll see in the morning how he is."
The win was a fifth straight for rookie Braden Holtby as he made 24 saves to improve his save percentage over this current run to .957.
The game could not have gotten off to a wackier start, with both goalies falling prey to forays behind their net only 20 seconds apart in the second minute of play.
First, Price, went behind his net to play a dump in by Dennis Wideman, only to have it take a funny hop off the Bell Centre's notorious seamless glass and bounce right to Johanssen in front for the rookie's 10th of the season at 1:06.
Holtby then went behind his own net and put a clearing attempt right on to Travis Moen's stick at the side boards for his fifth of the season at 1:26.
"It wasn't my best game," Holtby said. "I kind of got off to a rough start. It was a bit of bad decision on my part. I could have easily had six or seven goals against me if my defensemen hadn't been so good cutting off passes on odd-man rushes. Credit all goes to them tonight."
Matt Hendricks saw an apparent goal waved off at the 2:04 mark when his shot slipped through Price's legs and went off the post, coming to rest behind him. Hendricks then poked it in just before the Canadiens net was knocked off, but referee Brad Watson waved the goal off and the call stood after a video review.
Laich got that one back at 13:23 when he took a great pass by Karl Alzner, walked around Hal Gill and deked around Price for his 16th of the season.
The Capitals controlled much of the play over the second period with a decisive 17-6 edge in shots on goal, but it was the Canadiens that got the only goal of the period when Andrei Kostitsyn wired a shot high on Holtby's glove side for his 17th of the season at 3:28.
"We dominated them in the second period, mostly," Ovechkin said. "They had a couple of chances to score, but we were all over them in the offensive zone. We just couldn't score."
After Johansson put Washington ahead, Mike Knuble sealed it with a one-timer at 16:53 of the third for his 17th of the season and a 4-2 Capitals lead.
1 - 0 WSH
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 WSH
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 WSH
4 - 2 WSH
Holding the stick