MONTREAL – Marcus Johansson credited the Washington Capitals’ new-found work ethic for his big night.
The 20-year-old found himself alone with the puck twice in front of the Montreal net and buried both chances to lead the Capitals to their ninth straight victory, a 4-2 decision over the Canadiens on Tuesday night.
”When you play simple and work hard both ways the opportunities will come and that’s what we’ve been doing lately,” said Johansson, perhaps Washington’s best player on a night when they skated hard and outshot Montreal 41-26.
Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble also scored for the Capitals (41-20-10), who have won 12 of their last 14 games. Rookie goaltender Braden Holtby improved to 9-2-2 by winning in a fifth straight start.
Travis Moen and Andrei Kostitsyn replied for the Canadiens (38-25-7), who are 7-3-0 in their last 10.
The already injury riddled Canadiens lost two more players when first-line centre Tomas Plekanec and top-six winger Jeff Halpern both left the game. Coach Jacques Martin said they have lower body injuries and both will be evaluated on Wednesday to see how long they will be out of action.
Montreal was already down two forwards and four defencemen to long-term injuries.
”Obviously, guys keep falling and you don’t want to see that at this time of the season when points are so important,” said defenceman P.K. Subban. ”But we’ve got to keep moving forward and not dwell on that.
”We hope those guys are back for us, but we have to focus on the game.”
The Capitals are also hurting with their two top centres Nicklas Backstrom and Jason Arnott out, and they lost forward Eric Fehr to an upper body injury in the second period. Coach Bruce Bourdreau said Fehr was day-to-day.
The Capitals remained one point behind Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia, which beat Florida 3-2, although the Flyers hold two games in hand. Montreal fell to four points behind Northeast Division-leading Boston, which also won against Columbus.
Washington is 2-0-1 this season against Montreal, the team that upset the 2009-2010 President’s Trophy winners in the first round of playoffs last season.
The Capitals got a break to take the early lead. Dennis Wideman shot the puck in on a power play and saw it take a strange carom off the boards, go off the goalpost and straight to Johansson in front of the vacated net at 1:06 of the first.
Holtby picked up his first career assist on the goal.
”It’s definitely not how I envisioned getting it, but I’ll take it,” he said.
With the score tied at 2-2 in the third, Johansson followed in on an Alex Ovechkin rush and the 2009 first-round draft pick was left alone in front to lift the puck over Carey Price for the game-winner.
”You look at Marcus the way he played—he just doesn’t fall down,” Holtby added. ”He’s got the best balance I’ve ever seen in a skater.”
Johansson has three goals and seven assists in the last 12 games and, after a slow start, has picked up his production since January.
”It was the same with Nick (Backstrom) in his first year,” said the veteran Laich. ”The first half was a learning curve and in the second half he was nearly a point per game.
”Marcus was a big factor tonight. It was nice to see him get rewarded.”
After Johansson’s opener, Montreal struck back just 20 seconds later as Moen’s bad-angled shot from the side boards beat Holtby.
Laich made like Ovechkin as he weaved through the Montreal defence and deked Price at 13:23.
Kostitsyn tied the game at 2-2 at 3:28 of the second as he picked the top corner on a rush.
Washington started a six-game road trip that ends back in Montreal on March 26.
Notes: What looked like a good goal by Matt Hendricks in the first period was waved off because the referee said he intended to blow the whistle before it went in. … The Caps hoped to have Backstrom back from an injury, but he sat out a fourth game. Jason Arnott is expected to miss at least the first three games of the Caps’ road trip with an undisclosed injury. … Brett Sopel missed a third game for Montreal with a fractured hand. … Wednesdaywill be the 15th anniversary of the 1996 opening of the Bell Centre, then called the Molson Centre. … About 1,000 Montreal fans protested before the game against the NHL’s decision not to suspend Boston defenceman Zdeno Chara after his hit on Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty last week.