Bottom-six forwards rise to top for Caps
CAPITALS 3, CANADIENS 2
montreal — The shots were skilled. They could have been called snipes in hockey parlance. Pucks were launched into the top of the netting, sailing up and over Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price.
They were the kind of goals expected from the Washington Capitals’ top-six forward stars. Instead, they both came from Washington’s bottom-six, once again speaking to the team’s depth. A pair of flashy shots from Jay Beagle and Andre Burakovsky put the Capitals ahead in their 3-2 win over the Canadiens. Nicklas Backstrom’s third-period power-play goal stood as the game-winner after Montreal made a late push.
“Two really nice snipes, and then my muffin,” Backstrom said with a smirk.
“That’s sort of been the key to our success, that when the other teams are shutting down some of our other lines, the [Lars] Eller line or the Beagle line steps up,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “That’s been the secret for us, the depth of our team.”
depth can’t be much of a secret anymore with the Capitals atop the NHL standings with 76 points. Goaltender Braden Holtby continued his mastery of Montreal — 10-1-2 in his career — with 20 saves, many coming against quality scoring chances late in the game.
With the game tied to start the second period, Brett Connolly carried the puck up the left side of the ice before a precise cross-ice pass to Burakovsky in the right faceoff circle. From there, Burakovsky wristed it over Price’s shoulder with his quick release to give Washington a 2-1 lead 9:26 into the period.
Eller started the breakout that led to Burakovsky’s goal, giving him a point against the team that traded him to Washington this past summer. With the Capitals, Eller has centered a third line that has caught fire since the start of January and has provided a secondary scoring boost that the team was missing at times last season.
“It’s huge when you have four lines that are rolling and everyone is playing good and producing,” Backstrom said. “You need help from everyone to be successful.”
After Montreal’s Alexander Radulov was called for hooking 3:53 into the third period, Backstrom’s wrister from the point on the power play gave Washington a two-goal lead. That was needed insurance after Max Pacioretty’s goal with 12:11 left got the Canadiens within one.
Less than a minute later, Burakovsky went to the box for highsticking. Washington’s penalty kill had allowed at least one power-play goal in six straight games entering Saturday’s game, but it shut out the Canadiens to preserve the win. Much of the credit belonged to Holtby, who was peppered with 10 shots in the third period after seeing just 12 in the first 40 minutes.
“Once they got the second goal, I thought they had a little push there,” Trotz said. “. . . Braden’s always the guy who can backstop us when we need it. Those are tough games, when you’re not really getting a lot of work and all of a sudden they have a little flurry.”
The Capitals took the lead with their first shot. Entering the zone, Daniel Winnik found Beagle in the high slot, and Beagle beat Price on the glove side 3:02 into the game. Known more for his grinding defensive work, Beagle is having a career year offensively, with that 11th goal and 21st point marking career highs. The way Beagle scored — a puck lofted into the top of the netting against one of the league’s best goaltenders — spoke to the surprising offensive upside of Washington’s fourth line.
But Washington’s hot start cooled when Holtby pointed out a hole in the dasher board behind his net. A referee determined that the hole was indeed large enough for a puck to potentially vanish into it, so an 11-minute delay enThat sued as Bell Centre staff replaced the yellow baseboard.
“I just turned around and saw a hole in the boards,” Holtby said. “I don’t even know when it happened. I’ve never seen that before.”
Roughly two minutes after play resumed, the Capitals struggled to get the puck out of their own zone. Defenseman Nate Schmidt’s pass was intercepted, and Radulov capitalized with a wrister past Holtby to tie the game 7:32 into the first period.
Radulov thought he had a second goal in the second period, dropping to his knees in an epic celebration. But it was immediately waved off because Pacioretty was ruled to have interfered with Holtby. That kept Washington up by Burakovsky’s goal at the time.
“When the top two lines are not scoring, we need other guys to step up,” Burakovsky said. “I think we proved that today.”
The Caps’ Jay Beagle, left, chases the puck alongside Nathan Beaulieu. Beagle set career highs with his 11th goal and 21st point.