REBOUNDING IN MONTREAL:

On Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals played like a hockey team that was overlooking their opponent. In trying to close out a successful home stand, in which they had won three in a row, Washington fired just 17 shots on goal, and got caught looking ahead as the lowly New York Islanders dealt the capitals a 3-0 home shutout loss.

What the Capitals may have been looking forward to was their engagement Wednesday night in Montreal, and their battler with the new guy in town. Much of the buildup for last night's game centered around which Caps player would step up and take revenge on former Calgary Flame, and current Habs winger, Rene Bourque. 

Back on Jan-3, Bourque elbowed Caps leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom in the head, dealing the Swedish center a concussion for which he has yet to return from. As a repeat offender, Bourque was suspended for five games, and during the suspension, was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens.

That Capitals player would turn out to be, surprise--surprise, Matt Hendricks, as he and Bourque dropped the gloves just 1:15 into the game, and the two went at it. Hendricks, as he always does, accepted his role in Montreal and was more than willing to take on the larger Bourque, who has almost a two inch reach on the Caps tough man. 

“There are consequences for all actions,” says Hendricks. “[Bourque] was a great sport about it, too. He knows the game. I’m sure he wanted to get it out of the way as soon as he could. I said ‘Let’s go, that’s kind of how it works.”  

The bout was a draw (wink-wink), but immediately set the tone for a Caps team that would skate harder, hit harder, and score twice on their first four shots to start the game.

LOCAL BOY MAKES GOOD:

Drummondville, Quebec is approximately one hour, and 23 minutes from Montreal. Caps Center Mathieu Perreault happens to hail from the small city located on the Saint-François River, and because of that, had 15 friends and family members in attendance at the Belle Centre for the game.

Perreault played in 26 games prior to last night’s contest versus the Habs, and had not suited up for the Caps since the opening contest of their home stand last week, a span of three games.

The former sixth round pick (177th overall) of the Caps during the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, turned 24-years-old back on Jan-5, and has not played up to expectations this season. The Caps came into the season needing Perreault, and Marcus Johansson to provide scoring depth on the third and fourth line, but only Johansson has found the score sheet with any regularity so far this season.

Perreault had just three goals, and four assists entering last night's game. He hasn't scored since Oct-22 vs. Detroit, and after playing in 10 of the first 12 games for his new head coach Dale Hunter, Perreault has become a healthy scratch in seven of the past 11 games. He's averaged just 9:53 of ice time during those games.

Meanwhile, Johansson is the Caps fourth leading scorer with 27 points, and in 44 games, has already matched his rookie season point total that took him 69 games last season. He is far from the fourth line, especially with Caps top center out of the lineup. 

Last night the Caps got contributions from both, as Perreault scored his fourth goal just 4:41 into the contest. Less than four minutes later Johansson scored his 10th, and for the first time since Nov-5, the Caps scored twice in the first period on the road.

Perreault's post-game comments were delivered with more cheer than when he responded to reporters during the morning skate about the pressure of playing after being a healthy scratch in consecutive games

“There’s more pressure because you feel, ‘Hey, I’m back in. I’ve got to do good to be in next game.’ There’s always pressure in this game. It’s been like that for my whole life, so it’s nothing new.”

Following the game, and after delivering just his second career game winning goal said with a smile, “In front of your family and your friends in Montreal it’s always a good feeling,” . “It’s my first goal ever here. It was a big goal for us too; it got our team going. I’m pretty happy about it.”

Johansson's goal was eighth point in his last nine games, but with just over three minutes to go in the game, Johansson got a scare. After an on ice collision, Johansson appeared to be in pain and was favoring his left leg.

According to published reports, he had no visible limp after the game, and downplayed the injury saying, ""No, I'm fine. It happens. It's part of the game," he said. "Sometimes it hurts, but it's OK."

CZECH NO.2 IS NO.1 LAST NIGHT.

After starting in goal for 10-straight games, and winning seven of them, Tomas Vokoun took a seat last night, as fellow countryman Michael Neuvirth got the nod for Washington at the Bell Centre. The second year net minder was simply sensational stopping all 31 Montreal shots.

Neuvy earned his sixth win of the season, and recorded his second shutout in the process. The 23-year-old Czech native easily turned in his best performance of the season. Making his first start since the day after Christmas, Neuvirth was quick through the crease, and his glove, which has been slow at times this season, was quick to the puck.

Following the game talking to the media, he admitted to being nervous prior to the start of the contest. Neuvirth has made one appearance since his Dec-26 start playing in LA on Jan-9. “I was nervous before the game and obviously I feel rested,” says Neuvirth. “I made a couple big saves and I settled down and I felt great the rest of the way.”

Neuvy was especially spectacular when the Caps were required to kill off a six minute penalty to John Erskine. Erskine received a double minor for high sticking, and a minor for elbowing.

With a shutout win, and two wins vs. Caps opponent on Friday this season, Neuvy is a likely candidate to start again. He has accepted his role as the team’s No.2 goalie, and has the support of his teammates.

“I’m pretty happy with my performance tonight,” according to Neuvirth per the Caps web site, “but Vokie is playing great right now. He has been winning all the hockey games. He’s No. 1. I’m just happy to get a start tonight. I got a big ‘W’ for myself and for the team.”

“I just shook his hand,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “I thought Michal was exceptional. He was a vacuum. He sucked everything in. he made the saves, he covered the rebounds, he kicked things to the corner. He was tremendous. I thought Michal was great.”

CAPS HELPING OUT BY BLOCKING THE WAY:

Neuvirth may have had to come up a lot bigger if not for the fact that Caps shot blockers prevented 25 Habs chances from reaching their net minder. It was the eighth time in their last 11 games the Capitals blocked 20 or more shots during a contest.

OVIE STAYS HOT:

Alex Ovechkin provided the icing on the cake last night as his laser slap shot beat Canadiens net minder Carey Price for Caps third and final goal a little more than halfway through the game. The marker came on the power play for Washington, and was Ovechkin’s 19th of the year.  His eighth power play marker is one better than he scored in all of last season with the extra man, and now gives Ovie 14-points, in his last 14-games.

SPEAKING OF SPECIAL TEAMS:

The Capitals are two-different hockey teams this season on special teams at home, and on the road.  At home with the extra man, the caps are second in the NHL scoring 24-percent of the time. On the road, the Caps drop 18-spots to No.20 and almost 10-percent while scoring just 14.3 percent of the time.

On the penalty kill, Washington is sixth best in the NHL allowing opponents just 10 power play goals (86.8 percent) this season. Like the power play, the road seems to hamper the Caps efforts.  This time Washington drops 21 spots, allowing 19 power play (82.1 percent) markers.

The Caps are getting better with their special team away from home. Their power goal last night in Montreal was their fourth in their last five games away from the Verizon Center, and Washington’s penalty killers killed of all seven Montreal power play chances.

WHO’S COMPLAINING?

The Capitals were shutout for the first time this season on Tuesday night by the Islanders. This ended their 43-game regular-season streak of scoring at least one goal to start the 2011-12 season. This was the longest streak to start a season since Washington went 31 games without being shut out to kick off the 2009-10 campaign and the second-longest streak since the Capitals went the entire 80-game schedule without being shutout in both the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons.

By this time last season, The Capitals had already been whitewashed six times, including a 3-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on the road in their 44th game of the 10-11 season. Washington would go onto to suffer 11-shutouts, en-route to scoring almost 100-less goals than they did the season before.

So with just one shutout through their first 45-games this season, who’s complaining.

SAME RECORD DIFFERENT STYLE’S:

Through Dale Hunters first 23-games as bench boss of the Capitals he has compiled a record of 13-9-1. In contrast, former Caps coach, and now Anaheim Ducks lead man Bruce Boudreau, was 12-9-1 through 22-games this season with Washington before he was fired on Nov-28. Boudreau’s Caps started 7-0, before posting a 5-9-1 record, leading to his termination.

SHOTS ON GOAL A CONCERN:

For the 16th straight game, the Capitals were held to 30 or fewer shots. Washington recorded just 16-shots vs. Montreal, and 17 vs. the Islanders. Washington has been outshot in 27 of their 45 games this season, and has recorded more than 30 shots just 17 times this season.

On the flip side, the Caps need to be careful, and may need to get into a better platooning situation if Tomas Vokoun is going to be fresh come playoff time. Heading into the contest vs. Montreal, the Caps have been outshot by 31 in the first period, 56 in the second, and nine shots in the third period.

That has also translated into being outscored in the first and second periods as well. Opponents have combined to outscore Washington by 13-goals during the first two frames, but the Caps hold an 11-goal advantage in the final period this season.

With their five overtime goals this season, and including their 3-0 win against the Habs, Washington has outscored opponents 127-125 this season. I wouldn’t worry too much about the lack of shots just yet. The Caps are winning, and low show totals are not out of the question when trying to master a new system.

Under Boudreau, whose system the Caps knew, Washington averaged almost 31 shots per contest this season, and allowed almost 30 per night.

With Hunter at the helm, Washington is only averaging 24.7 shots per contest, but is still allowing 30 per game. It’s all in the system, and by seasons end, it will all be relative to what Hunter wants to accomplish. The Caps are too talented not to increase their shot totals, and to intelligent not to perfect Hunters system.

NEXT UP FOR THE CAPS: At Carolina Hurricanes (Friday Jan-20)

With their win in Montreal, the Caps (25-18-2) have jumped over Florida, and taken sole possession of first place with a one point advantage in the Southeast division. Washington, who has 52 points, has played the same number of games as the Panthers. The Caps are also the No.3 seed in the Eastern conference as division leaders, and both teams are in action Friday night. The Panthers travel to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks, who are the best team in the Western conference.

Washington travels to Raleigh, NC to take on the Carolina Hurricanes for the second time in five days. On Sunday afternoon, Washington took down Carolina 2-1 at the big phone booth. In that game, rookie defenseman Dmitry Orlov scored his first NHL goal, which also turned out to be the game winner.

With 43 saves, Tomas Vokoun outdueled Carolina’s Cam Ward. This is the second of a three game road trip for Dale Hunters squad, and the second trip to North Carolina’s capital city this season. Washington won in dominant fashion back on Nov-4 with a 5-1 win. In that game Caps rookie Cody Eakin scored his first NHL goal, as Jeff Halpern, Troy Brouwer, Nicklas Backstrom, and John Carlson added a tally apiece.

Speaking of Backstrom, who has not played since the elbow from Rene Bourque on Jan-3, he recently discussed his injury recovery with Swedish news Aftonbladet, with English translations via Japers' Rink.

"I'm day-to-day as they say over here, right now. We haven't really talked much yet about when I can get back on the ice. I would be lying if I told you that I have felt 100% fine since it happened, but I don't have headaches anymore and I don't feel nauseous anymore either."

Sounds like good news from the Caps leading scorer.

Washington wasn’t the only team that fired a head coach on Nov-28, the Canes ousted Paul Maurice, and replaced him Captain Kirk Muller. Like the caps situation, Muller has pretty much matched the record of Maurice.

 When fired the second time as coach of the Canes, the former Hartford Whalers coach who moved to Carolina with the e team before being fired the first time in 2004 was 8-13-4 behind the Carolina bench. Since taking over, Muller, the former six time NHL All-Star, who won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1993, has gone 8-11-4.

Eric Staal, Tuomo Ruutu, and Jeff Skinner are Carolina’s 1-2-3 scoring punch. The three have combined for 38 goals and 85-points this season.

Speaking of Ruutu, it may be worth watching how he responds to Alex Ovechkin, and vice-versa. The Great 8 seems to get agitated by Ruutu, and the two seem to have a physical rivalry in full swing. On Sunday during the Carolina game, Ovie delivered a thunderous hit to the Canes to Ruutu. This is just one of several big hits to take place in this budding rivalry. 

Ruutu seemed to fire the first shot when he took a cheap at Nicklas Backstrom during a game in March of 2010. Ruutu has decked Ovie a few times, but last March when the Canes Finish forward stuck out his leg and finished Dennis Wideman’s season, Ovechkin took exception and went after him. It's a pretty good bet that Ovie has been looking for a good time to punish Ruutu for that and saw an opportunity Sunday.

Carolina is in last place in the Southeast division as well as the Eastern Conference. The Canes are just 2-8-2 in division play this year, and 16-24-8 overall. Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward is 14-10-4 lifetime against the Capitals. He has three shutouts, a 2.61 GAA and a .919 save pct. in 29 career appearances (28 starts) against Washington.

The three game road trip concludes with a nationally televised game in Pittsburgh on Sunday (12:30 ET NBC), as the Caps will play on national TV before the start of the NFL conference championship games.

For the third consecutive Super Sunday, Washington will headline the NBC game. The last two seasons the Caps played Pittsburgh, but will host the Stanley Cup champion, Boston Bruins on February-5 at the Verizon Center.

 By the way, LET’S GO RAVENS-------