Mathieu Perreault had not played a game in a week. Michal Neuvirth had not started in nearly three but you wouldn’t have known it by the way they played Wednesday night against the Canadiens. Perreault scored his first goal since October in the opening minutes of the game, and Neuvirth made 31 saves on route to a 3-0 shutout over the Canadiens, which came in spite of a season-low 16 shots on net. Joining Perreault on the scoresheet were Marcus Johansson and Alex Ovechkin, whose second-period power-play goal was the Capitals’ first in three games.
“This is a team that was chasing us in the standings, so we wanted to bounce back and get a win,” Brooks Laich said, referring to a 3-0 loss on home ice to the Islanders less than 24 hours earlier. “We were disappointed with our effort (Islanders game).” Neuvirth was occasionally spectacular in his first start since getting pulled after giving up three goals on six shots Dec. 26 in Buffalo, a span of 11 games and 23 days. The shutout was his second of the season, he blanked the Jets in Winnipeg on Dec. 15. “I was a little nervous before the game and obviously I felt rested,” Neuvirth said. “I made a couple of big saves [early] and I settled down. I felt great the rest of the way.”
A night after a disappointing lose to the Islanders, the Capitals took control of the game for good in the first period. Only 1 minute 15 seconds in, Matt Hendricks fought Rene Bourque, exacting some revenge for Bourque’s cheap shot on Nicklas Backstrom (who is sidelined indefinitely with a concussion). Bourque elbowed Backstrom in the head on Jan. 3 as a member of the Calgary Flames, a team the Capitals didn’t they would be playing the Canadiens again until next season. But nine days later, Bourque was dealt to the Canadiens. Bourque earned a takedown of Hendricks after a flurry of jabs. Hendricks, though, sent an important message: The Capitals were here to play.
“It’s part of the code,” Hendricks said. “Part of the game. There are consequences for all actions. He was great sport about it. He knows the game; I’m sure he wanted to get it out of the way as soon as he could.” Capitals winger Troy Brouwer said the fight inspired the visitors’ bench. “Anytime you stand up for a teammate, whether it’s in the same game or later down the road, it really gets the guys up,” said Brouwer, who was wearing the alternate captain’s ‘A’ for the first time this season. Moments after Hendricks dropped the gloves, Perreault opened the scoring at 4:41, whipping a wrist shot through Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges and past Carey Price. Perreault had not scored since Oct. 22, and had been a healthy scratch in seven of the previous 10 games.
“When I get in the lineup, there’s that pressure to perform so I can get in the next game,” said Perreault, who grew up in Drummondville, Quebec, and had 15 friends and family members at the game. “So to get a goal is huge. I was just so excited. I didn’t know what to do so I did the Ovi celebration and jumped into the glass.” Less than four minutes later, the Capitals were celebrating again after Johansson beat Price over the glove. Johansson appeared to hurt his left leg late in the game, but he played down the injury after the game. Ovechkin stretched their lead to 3-0 on the power play halfway through the second period. The Capitals’ captain fired a shot from the point that hit the post, with Troy Brouwer screening Price before entering the net.
“He’s been doing a job all year that way,” Capitals Coach Dale Hunter said of Brouwer’s screen. “Price is a good goalie and if he sees that puck he’s going to save it.” With a three-goal lead, Neuvirth made sure the score stayed that way. He made a number of crucial saves, including a spectacular glove save on Scott Gomez halfway through the second period and an amazing pad save on Lars Eller in the third period. As dominant as the score would seem to indicate the victory was for the Capitals, they continued to struggle in one key area of the game, shots. They were outshot for seventh straight game. They registered only 17 on Tuesday. “It’s sort of a trend of not generating a lot of shots,” winger Mike Knuble said. “I love to see us have more end zone time.”