Biting The Hand That Once Fed Him – The Montreal Canadiens expended a ninth-round pick (226th overall) on goaltender Tomas Vokoun in the 1994 Entry Draft. Vokoun spent two seasons toiling in the Montreal system, and made his NHL debut with the Habs almost exactly 15 years ago, on Feb. 6, 1997.
That debut did not go well.
Vokoun was nicked for four goals on 14 shots in 20 minutes of work in a 9-5 Montreal loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia. He started that game, but was pulled after the first frame. Just over a year later, he was claimed from the Canadiens in the NHL expansion draft, becoming a member of the Nashville Predators.
Vokoun established himself as a topnotch netminder in Nashville, but until today he had never blanked the team that gave him his start in the NHL. This afternoon Vokoun stopped all 30 shots the Habs sent in his direction to send Washington home with a 3-0 win over Montreal.
“Obviously that’s a long time ago,” says Vokoun of that first NHL game with the Habs. “We needed the two points. We played a pretty good game. I think we played smart. We were fortunate enough to get a one-goal lead and we played a smart road game.
“We didn’t give them much, so it’s a good win for us. We’ve been struggling on the road. You look at the standings; we’re outside the playoffs. We need every point we can get.”
Washington’s won over the Habs on Saturday was just its seventh win in its last 24 road games (7-14-3).
The Caps got a first-period goal from defenseman Dennis Wideman; his shot floated netward and bounded behind Canadiens goaltender Peter Budaj after a fortuitous bounce off a Montreal body in front.
“That was kind of an embarrassing one,” says Wideman. “I don’t know what to do when something like that happens. It was up on end. I just kind of swung at it hoping for the best. I guess the best happened. It kind of went up and over everybody and no one really picked it up and then it kind of just dropped in. It was pretty high. It got up there pretty good. It was about a foot or two over [Montreal forward Max] Pacioretty’s head. It popped up there pretty good.”
“He shot it,” says Vokoun of Wideman’s goal, “and it took like two seconds before the red light went on. I didn’t even see the puck where it went. It’s one of those fluky goals; not really much a goalie or anybody [can do], kind of unpreventable. A little bit lucky on our side, but we had some tough breaks too. Sometimes that’s going to happen.”
Matt Hendricks added his second goal in three games in the third to give Washington some needed breathing room, and Alexander Semin closed out the scoring with a wicked slapper from between the circles on a penalty shot later in the final period.
“With my goal,” begins Hendricks, “I think you’ve got to give credit to Semin and [Brooks] Laich for creating that play. Sasha gets it down deep, works it over to Brooksie, and he bulldozed his way to the net with the puck. I think that’s where you get those dirty goals, from guys taking it to the net and creating those opportunities where guys lose their coverage.”
The win – coupled with Florida’s Saturday setback to the Lightning in Tampa – moves the Caps to within a single point of the Cats for the top spot in the Southeast Division. Washington’s 58 points are two fewer than eighth-place Toronto, which blanked the Senators 5-0 on Saturday.
“It’s an important game today,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter. “Other teams keep winning. You’ve got to keep winning or you’ll fall behind. Today, we played a strong defensive game, got timely scoring and Tomas was real good again.”
Shutout Streak – Today’s shutout was the third straight for the Capitals in Montreal, and each was achieved with a different Washington goaltender. Braden Holtby started the run with a 2-0 shutout of the Canadiens at Bell Centre on March 26, 2011. Holtby needed to make just 18 saves in that game.
Michal Neuvirth whitewashed the Habs here on Jan. 18 of this year, making 31 saves in the process, and then Vokoun stonewalled the Canadiens here today.
Dating back to last March 15, the Caps have not allowed a goal to the Habs in Montreal in the last 216 minutes and 32 seconds of hockey played between the two teams at Bell Centre.
Back In The Lineup – Caps captain Alex Ovechkin was back in the Washington lineup for the first time in nearly two weeks, since a Jan. 22 game at Pittsburgh. Ovechkin drew a thee-game NHL suspension for a hit on Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek in that game, and that league-mandated vacation coupled with the All-Star break combined to keep Ovechkin out for the second longest span of his NHL career.
Ovechkin led all Caps forwards with 19:57 in ice time. He was credited with one shot on goal, three hits and a two blocked shots. Ovechkin also had two shots blocked and missed the net twice.
“I feel pretty excited before the game,” says Ovechkin, “I felt unbelievable when I stepped on the ice and saw the crowd; back on track. But today my game was not that good. You can see that three games is a lot and [more than] 10 days without games is a long time. It’s good I had lots of [ice] time today; I felt the puck, I felt the energy and I felt the hitting. It was good.”
Ovechkin made one notable gaffe deep in the attack zone. He stripped the puck from a Habs defender and then slid it to his right believing he had a teammate with him on the rush. But instead he slid it right to Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges.
“It was a pretty funny moment, actually,” relates Ovechkin. “I was laughing at it so bad on the bench. I couldn’t shot the puck. I won the battle, and I heard the stick and I thought it was [Alexander] Semin. I gave it to him and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I was right in front of the net.’ It was kind of a funny moment. Maybe if I didn’t miss three games I would shoot it.”
“I can’t wait to play [against Boston at Verizon Center] tomorrow. I feel good, I feel fresh.”
Dual Penalty Shots – For the first time in Washington’s franchise history, the Capitals had two penalty shots in the same game. Troy Brouwer had an unsuccessful penalty shot in the second period and Semin cashed in on his attempt in the third
“On Sasha’s goal,” says Ovechkin, “I don’t think any goalie can react to that shot. Probably one and a half meters from the net and a slap shot, top shelf. I don’t think somebody can stop that.”
The goal was Semin's first in three career penalty shot attempts in the NHL.
Block That Shot – Washington blocked 27 Montreal shots on the afternoon, a single-game high for the Capitals this season. A dozen different players blocked at least one shot today, led by Karl Alzner’s four. Sixteen of the 27 blocks came from Washington defensemen.
The Capitals have blocked 20 or more shots in 11 of their last 17 games and in 12 of 29 games since Hunter took over behind the bench on Nov. 28. The Caps had just one game with 20 or more blocked shots in their first 22 games this season, when Bruce Boudreau was the team’s head coach.
Weekender – Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman played in his 500th NHL game against Pittsburgh two weekends ago. He played in the first NHL All-Star Game of his career last weekend.
Today, Wideman opened another noteworthy weekend when he scored his 10th goal of the campaign in the first period, becoming just the fifth NHL defenseman to do so and reaching that plateau for the fourth time in his NHL career.
Wideman’s tally turned out to be the game-winner, and it earned him a coveted CBC white towel at game’s end, courtesy of the good people at Hockey Night in Canada who telecast today’s game to a national audience up here north of the border.
By the way, Wideman skated just 20:53 in today’s game, the lowest ice time total he has had since Hunter took over as Washington’s bench boss on Nov. 28. The last time Wideman logged less than 20 minutes in a game was the day after Thanksgiving when he skated 18:05 in a game against the Rangers at Verizon Center.
Gold Coin – Center Keith Aucoin skated in his first NHL game of the season and just his second since the start of the 2010-11 season. He logged 7:57 in nine shifts on the afternoon, drawing 42 seconds worth of power play time in the process. He was also credited with a shot on goal and two hits.
Deep Drought – Montreal forward Scott Gomez failed to dent the twine on Saturday, along with the rest of his Montreal teammates. For Gomez though, the drought has been longer than for most.
The Montreal center’s last goal came a year ago tomorrow, on Feb. 5, 2011 against his former employers, the New York Rangers. Gomez has now gone 51 straight games without a goal. That’s a drought worthy of some attention in any event, but even more so when the owner of that dry spell has a salary cap hit in excess of $7 million.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears began a busy weekend on Friday night in heartbreaking fashion. The Bears coughed up a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes en route to a stunning 4-3 regulation defeat at the hands of the Baby Pens in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Hershey hosted the Connecticut Whale at Giant Center on Saturday, but lost that one as well, 4-1. Cody Eakin scored Hershey’s lone goal and Dany Sabourin made 17 saves in a losing effort.
The Bears host the Baby Pens at 2 p.m. at Giant Center on Sunday. Hershey is now tied for second in the AHL’s East Division with Norfolk, five points behind Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays dropped a 4-3 decision to the Cyclones in Cincinnati on Friday. The Stingrays suffered a 3-2 setback to the Cyclones in Cincy on Saturday.
Mike Hamilton and David de Kastrozza accounted for the Stingrays’ offense and Philipp Grubauer made 14 saves in a losing effort.
South Carolina is now running second in the ECHL’s South Division, four points behind Gwinnett.
By The Numbers – John Carlson led the Caps with 22:30 in ice time, Washington’s lowest ice time total for a single-game leader since Wideman logged 22:06 in a game at Carolina on Nov. 4. Not coincidentally, that Nov. 4 game was also the first of back-to-back games … Ovechkin led the Caps in power play ice time. He was out for 3:48 of the 4:31 on which Washington enjoyed the man-advantage … Semin led the Caps with four shots on goal … Brouwer and Hendricks led the way with three hits each … Gorges led all Habs with 20:16 in ice time … Andrei Kostitsyn led the Canadiens with five shots on net.