Washington's best offensive players came out to play on Monday night in Montreal, helping the Caps to their sixth straight victory, a 4-1 win over the Canadiens. Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two assists and Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and an assist each to support the 22-save efforts of Braden Holtby in the Washington nets.
Video: Ovechkin tallies 999th career point in 4-1 win
Ovechkin, the six-time Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy winner, netted his 544th career goal on Monday, matching Richard's career total in the city where the legendary winger played his entire NHL career before retiring in 1960. Ovechkin and Richard are now tied for 29th on the league's all-time list for goals scored.
"Obviously it's a historic place and it's nice to be involved in the history" says Ovechkin, "to tie him in one of the best buildings and best building atmospheres in the NHL. It's pretty impressive."
With his three-point night in Montreal, Ovechkin moved to within a single point of the 1,000 career points plateau. The Caps head home next, opening a three-game homestand with a Wednesday night game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center.
The Caps got on the board first, just after the midpoint of the first frame. Covering the left point for a pinching Karl Alzner, Ovechkin came into possession of the puck. He pump faked, then put a shot on net. Habs goalie Carey Price made the stop, but Backstrom backhanded the rebound home for a 1-0 Washington advantage at 11:03 of the first.
"I tried to wait for somebody to go to the front of the net," says Ovechkin. "Backy did, and we got the lead."
Video: Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Holtby and Eller talk postgame
Holtby wasn't tested frequently on Monday, as the Caps' defense was effective at limiting the Habs' looks at the Washington net. The Capitals held the Canadiens to just 23 shots on net after Montreal had exceeded 30 shots in eight of its previous nine games. But Holtby made a big save on Alexander Radulov in final minute of the first, and another stellar stop on Bobby Farnham just after the latter stepped out of the penalty box midway through the middle period.
Washington nursed its 1-0 lead into the third, but ran into some penalty trouble once again, taking three minors in the final stanza, starting with a bench minor for too many men on the ice in the first minute of the third. With a single second remaining on the second of those penalty killing missions, the Habs finally broke through and solved Holtby.
Tomas Plekanec scored on a mad goalmouth scramble in which the Caps were unable to clear or cover the puck, tying the game at 1-1 at the 7:18 mark of the final period. Washington issued a video challenge, alleging goaltender interference, but the goal was upheld and Holtby's career-long shutout streak was halted at 169 minutes and 12 seconds.
With the crowd suddenly alive and momentum teetering, Washington wasted little time in regaining the lead. Less than a minute after Plekanec's goal pulled the Habs even, Kuznetsov answered in dazzling fashion for the Capitals. After taking a bump pass from Ovechkin in neutral ice, Kuznetsov gained the Montreal line in a one-on-one situation with Habs defenseman Jeff Petry. Kuznetsov shook Petry off by going to the inside, then beat Price by going to the short side, restoring the Caps' lead at 2-1 with 11:48 left to play.
"The puck was bouncing a little bit," recounts Kuznetsov. "It was just a one-on-one and that's a pretty tough play and I did get a little bit lucky."
Just under three minutes later and at the end of his very next shift, Kuznetsov exploited a soft play from Petry, forcing a turnover behind the Montreal net. Seconds after Brett Connolly hopped over the boards to start his shift, Kuznetsov fed him perfectly and Connolly fired a shot past Price to make it a 3-1 game with exactly nine minutes remaining to play.
After the Caps killed off a Connolly hi-sticking minor to maintain their two-goal cushion, they got a later power play opportunity. That's when Ovechkin matched the man some people called Maurice, but most called "Rocket."
After Backstrom and Marcus Johansson played catch for a while on the right side of the ice, Backstrom found a seam and fed Ovechkin, who was stationed atop the left circle. Ovechkin made it look easy, whipping a shot from his back foot to the far side to finish the scoring for the night with 3:24 remaining.
"Watching Ovi's goal to tie The Rocket, [it was an] exceptional shot," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "There's not too many guys on this planet that can let that release go the way he did. He beat Carey Price, and everybody knows what I think of Carey Price and Braden Holtby. They're both outstanding. But he let that puck go, and that was a wrist shot. It had some juice on it."
Video: Trotz talks after a 4-1 win in Montreal
With T. J. Oshie out of the lineup, Trotz reconfigured his top six and inserted Liam O'Brien into the lineup for the first time since early in the 2014-15 season. Each member of the Caps' top six picked up at least a point, and everyone else played well enough to stymie the Canadiens, extending Washington's winning streak to six straight games. The Capitals have outscored the opposition by a combined total of 24-9 during those last half dozen games.
"We had a little bit of a bad change to start the [third] period," says Trotz, "and [the Canadiens] got a little bit of momentum off of that. [It was] a real big moment. We always talk about momentum times after a goal by us or by the opposition. Kuzy [made a] great play in a big moment and responded back and we sort of quieted the building down and took the momentum back. I thought it was really good, and then we got another response by Connolly."
With Monday's win, the Caps leap-frogged the New York Rangers and are now in third place in the Metropolitan Division standings. Washington also passed Montreal, meaning that each of the top four teams in the Metro Division has more points than the Habs, the leaders of the Eastern Conference's other division, the Atlantic.