The Montreal Canadiens flew into Washington with a 10-5-3 record and on a 6-1-1 run.
They left with a 5-2 win over the NHL-leading Capitals.
This was no small feat. It took a full team effort and a dominant performance in nearly every facet of the game to hand the Capitals their first regulation-loss in 14 games. That’s exactly what the Canadiens got on this night.
It started with allowing three quality chances in the first two shifts of the game, the best of which came off Alex Ovechkin’s stick—a rocket of a one-timer that Carey Price impressively punched into the corner. After that, the Canadiens tightened up the defence and started pushing the pace at the other end.
They outshot the Capitals 30-18 through two periods, out-chanced them by the same margin, and they out-hustled them in all three zones.
This was the game the Canadiens knew they had to bring with them to Washington.
“You know how good and how talented the team on the other side is,” said Canadiens assistant captain Brendan Gallagher prior to the game. “We have a lot of confidence in our group that if we play our game, we can compete with anyone in this league. We have that belief, but this is a good chance for us to show that.”
Sure, the Capitals pushed back with goals from Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the third period. But it was too little, too late.
THE BIG TAKEAWAY
Character personified is the way to describe how the Canadiens responded to an Ovechkin hit that temporarily knocked Montreal leading scorer Jonathan Drouin out of this game.
Ovechkin came across the defensive zone and launched himself into Drouin before landing on top of him in the fifth minute of the second period. Drouin skated off and headed straight to Montreal’s room while Canadiens winger Paul Byron came back into Montreal’s zone and clipped Ovechkin.
Byron was steamed about the hit. So were the Canadiens apparently, because they put the puck in the net just 2:14 later.
Less than three minutes after Phillip Danault opened the scoring, Shea Weber blasted a one-time through Ilya Samsonov to make it 2-0 Canadiens. Then it was Jordan Weal scoring in the 12th minute of the frame to make it 3-0.
And Nick Suzuki effectively put the nail in the coffin at 14:42. Tomas Tatar added an empty-net goal for good measure with 2:31 remaining in the third period.
It was Tatar’s fourth point of the game, as he passed Drouin for the team lead in points (19). Not bad.
Also good: Drouin returned to start the third period and appeared no worse for wear in registering three shots on net and a couple of quality chances before the game’s end.
• Nick Cousins, who had been held out of Montreal’s first six games—with a back injury for some, but mostly as a healthy scratch—said the following after a strong game in Arizona before the Canadiens beat the Vegas Golden Knights on Halloween:
“Damn right I had a chip on my shoulder,” Cousins started. “The big thing is, when you’re scratched a bunch, it’s not easy to come back in. But when you do, you absolutely have to make an impact.”
The fourth-liner has done exactly that in his 13 games—collecting two goals and seven points.
Now take the same logic and apply it to Weal, who had sat out Montreal’s last four games and played in just two in their last 10. Weal came into Friday’s game and scored a backbreaking goal to put the Canadiens up 3-0 in the second period.
• It’s pretty rare to see an NHL goaltender duck out of the way of a shot, but that’s what Samsonov did when Weber crushed a one-timer from the side-boards over his head, off the bar and in for Montreal’s 2-0 goal.
Can you blame him?
Weber’s shot is notoriously terrifying, and that hasn’t changed at all with age. It’s a function of his brute strength—and perfect mechanics—that he’s scored so many of his 209 NHL goals in this fashion.
But don’t discount Weber’s dedication to working on his one-timer as a factor in his success. He practices it every single day without fail—and from multiple angles.
• Meanwhile, Weber, who started off the season quite slowly, has 14 points in his last 13 games and is on a five-game point streak.
• If Suzuki’s only point in the game hadn’t been a goal, it would have been an assist. He banked one in off Jonas Siegenthaler on the play, and if he hadn’t hit the Capitals defenceman, he’d have hit Brendan Gallagher’s stick for a tap in.
It was a heady play. Much like all the ones Suzuki has been making of late.
It took the 20-year-old rookie a few games to grow accustomed to the NHL game, for him to find his place—and his voice— in Montreal’s locker room, but it’s become plain to see that his confidence has grown with every shift. Suzuki has started to show he’s comfortable playing his game at this level, and his game has multiple dimensions to it.
His work in the middle of the ice has been unimpeachable. It was part of the reason Ryan Poehling was pushed to the wing, and then to Laval in short order. And it could be a reason Jesperi Kotkaniemi finds himself on the wing after missing the last seven games with a groin injury.
The Canadiens are traveling back to Montreal, where they’ll play the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.