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It was a good night for the Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin even though he didn’t play.
Ovechkin was suspended for Monday night’s game against the Canadiens at the Bell Centre for his decision to skip Saturday’s NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis. Ovechkin had scored eight goals in his previous three games, including back-to-back hat tricks, giving him a team-leading 34 goals this season.
The Capitals didn’t need their superstar captain, beating the Canadiens 4-2 and delivering yet another blow to their fading playoff hopes.
Ovechkin was spotted before the game enjoying a couple of hot dogs in the Bell Centre press lounge and after the game he was spotted shooting hoops with teammates on a basketball net outside the Capitals’ locker room while still wearing his suit and tie.
The Capitals improved their league-best record to 34-11-5, while the Canadiens fell to 22-22-7, including a dismal 10-13-4 at the Bell Centre. The official attendance was 21,302, which is a sellout.
“They’re obviously an elite hockey team and we have to understand that,” the Canadiens’ Max Domi said about the Capitals after Monday’s morning skate in Brossard. “Ovi’s Ovi, but they still have lots of other weapons out there so it’s going to be a really tough test for our group tonight and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Canadiens came up short, getting goals from Jeff Petry and Dale Weise while being outshot 41-33 by the Capitals. Washington goalie Braden Holtby improved his career record against the Canadiens to 14-2-2, while Carey Price saw his personal four-game winning streak come to an end in the Montreal net.
The Canadiens remain 10 points out of a playoff spot. Last season it took 98 points to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, so the Canadiens would need 47 points from their final 31 games to reach that mark — record equivalent to 22-6-3.
The Sportsclubstats.com website now has the Canadiens’ chances of making the playoffs listed at 1.1 per cent.
Sloppy second period
Petry gave the Canadiens an early 1-0 lead when he scored 1:55 into the first period and then Tom Wilson tied it for the Capitals with a power-play goal at the 18:30 mark.
Things fell apart for the Canadiens during what coach Claude Julien called a sloppy second period when Travis Boyd and Jakub Vrana scored to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead. Weise cut the lead to 3-2 when he scored at 7:30 of the third period before Nicklas Backstrom scored an empty-netter at 19:37 to put the game away.
“First period we take a 1-0 lead, we have a chance to extend it and we don’t bury our chances,” Julien said. “So they get themselves back into the game. But second period was a real sloppy period. We have a no-quit attitude, which I think everybody saw in the third period. We work hard and we try and get ourselves back. I think the intentions are good, but we need to be better than we were tonight without the puck or even with the puck at times. So our sloppiness cost us games and we can’t afford to be sloppy.”
When asked to explain why his team was sloppy, Julien said: “ There’s things I can’t explain. You guys ask me questions like: ‘How can I explain that?’ I don’t know. Did you ask the players? I know our preparation for the game is one way and then at a certain point it’s up to the players to concentrate and to do what we’re asking them to do. But when they don’t do them and they’re not well-concentrated in the minute, this is what happens.”
Why so sloppy?
So, why were the Canadiens so sloppy?
“I think coming off the break and not being on the ice for a while and trying to force plays and making the extra pass and doing things that when you’re sharp it’s still a 50/50 play,” Petry said. “It’s just a matter of making the smart play and making the right decisions.
“I think everybody has the right intentions and I think it’s just a matter of kind of forcing plays instead of making the easy play because we did just come off of a week break and we said it coming into the game that we wanted to make the simple plays and make sure that we skate them,” Petry added. “I think we fed their transition quite a bit in the second (period).”
The Capitals’ second goal by Boyd went in the net off Petry’s skate.
“I probably shouldn’t have been standing that far into the crease,” Petry said. “It was slow motion. I went to go move my stick and I hit (Carey) Price’s toe with it and so that delayed the reaction to get my stick over to the puck. Bad bounce, but also it could have probably been prevented from staying on top of the crease.”
The Capitals’ third goal by Vrana came after Canadiens captain Shea Weber lost the puck on what looked like an innocent play in the corner. Weber finished the night minus-2.
Reason to believe?
The Canadiens continue to believe they can still earn a playoff spot but those hopes are fading with each loss.
“We have to believe in here,” Petry said “I think every guy does. I think it’s a matter of everyone in here coming together and just making sure that we play the right way and get on a run. We’ve done it in spurts this season and we just have to repeat that and have a strong finish.
“Every loss hurts, but at this point these are all big games,” Petry added. “This whole week and moving forward from there, we have to get on a run here if we want to be in the playoffs and I think every guy in here wants to accomplish that. But I think we have to have the right effort the majority of the time. I think we can’t have those lapses like we did in the second (period) there.”
Added Ilya Kovalchuk: “ It’s the first game after the break … it’s not an excuse. But we’re going to take the way we finished. We’re going to continue to fight and we’re never going to give up. I t’s only one game. We got to go step by step. Today we didn’t get the result we wanted to but, like I said, we’re going to keep fighting. It’s 31 games left … we’ll see what we can do.”
Standings don’t look good
Things don’t look good for the Canadiens when they look at the NHL standings.
“They’re all pretty smart individuals in there and they know how to count,” Julien said after Monday’s morning skate when asked how his team will approach the final stretch of the season. “So that part I think they understand. What you have to do as a coaching staff, but also as players, is you bring it to the simple fact that let’s focus on winning tonight. That’s the important thing. Not in three days from now or not Saturday or the following game after that.
“We know what it entitles,” the coach added. “It entitles after tonight teams that we need to catch up to try and make a push. I think right now tonight’s game is just as important as the next one coming up so we have to really minimize that and you hope that the maturity of your team — even though you have a lot of young players, that’s why you’ve got veterans and you got some good leadership — can hold that group together inside that dressing room. We’ll do our part from the outside if we can say that. But at the end of the day we know what we have to do and we’re going to go one game at a time like the old cliché says and go from there.”
Weise scores in 500th career game
Weise’s first goal in 10 games this season with the Canadiens came in his 500th career NHL game.
After Monday’s morning skate, Weise had praise for former Canadiens coach Michel Therrien, who was behind the bench during Weise’s first stint with the Canadiens after he was acquired from the Vancouver Canucks in February 2014.
“He was huge for my career,” Weise said about Therrien, who is now an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers. “The first coach that kind of believed in me that I could do more than I’ve had the opportunity before that. Obviously, I owe a lot to him for my career. Like I said, he gave me a chance and played me a ton. So I’m very thankful for him.”
Drouin, Gallagher close to returning
The Canadiens got some good news Monday morning when Jonathan Drouin and Brendan Gallagher took part in the team’s morning skate in Brossard while wearing non-contact jerseys. Neither one of them was in the lineup against the Capitals.
Drouin hasn’t played since having wrist surgery on Nov. 18, while Gallagher has missed 10 of the last 11 games after suffering a concussion.
“They’re no contact right now, so that’s a step in the right direction that they’re able to skate with the team and the next step will be about contact,” Julien said after the morning skate. “I’m going to wait for the green light again, as I always say. They go contact and (then) they need two days or two practices, three, four, five, I don’t know. I think all that will depend on how they’re doing and what the medical staff gives me. But, you know, it’s encouraging. It’s nice to see them out with us and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s sooner than later.”
Gallagher missed four games after suffering a concussion during a New Year’s Eve game in Carolina, returned to play one game while wearing a tinted visor and then started experiencing headaches. Julien said it’s not conclusive that Gallagher suffered a second concussion.
“It could have been a variety of different things,” the coach said. “But what we do for cautionary reasons is we go back to the protocol and make sure that all those things are covered and that’s what’s been covered here in the last little while. Because if you bring a guy back and something ends up happening a second time then you’re prolonging the absence. So I would say for the safety of the player — which we all talk about when it comes to those kind of head injures — he had a headache the next day. It didn’t last that long, but they took the precautionary measurements to go by the concussion protocol. But technically it wasn’t diagnosed as a concussion.”
Gallagher was still wearing a tinted visor when he skated Monday morning.
After the morning skate, Paul Byron skated in full equipment with a member of the team’s training staff. Byron was wearing a track suit when he skated Sunday. He hasn’t played since having knee surgery on Nov. 19.
The Canadiens showed Kobe Bryant highlights during the singing of the U.S. national anthem before Monday night’s game. The 41-year-old former Los Angeles Lakers basketball star and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash Sunday in California.
Nate Thompson never got to meet Bryant during his two seasons with the Los Angeles Kings before being traded to the Canadiens, but he saw up close the impact the former Lakers basketball star had on the city.
“It’s just a terrible tragedy,” Thompson said after Monday’s morning skate. “Not just Kobe, but his daughter and the (other) people on the helicopter. I was kind of in shock. I grew up watching Kobe. He was a guy that really kind of took the sport to another level because of his work and dedication. I know even when I ruptured my Achilles (tendon) I followed his rehab closely when he did his. So he was an inspiration.
“The Lakers are everything in L.A.,” added Thompson, who still has an offseason home in Hermosa Beach, Calif. “And he embodied everything that was the Lakers. He was just a polarizing figure that made such an impact on the court and off the court. You could see everything he was doing after basketball. You could see the impact he was having after his career. It’s awful.”
The Canadiens have practices scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Tuesday and 10:45 a.m. Wednesday in Brossard before travelling to Buffalo to face the Sabres Thursday night (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).
Friday will be a day off for the Canadiens before their annual Super Bowl weekend matinee games at the Bell Centre against the Florida Panthers on Saturday (2 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday (2 p.m., SN1, SNE, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).
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