Forsaking their wide-open, high-scoring ways of recent seasons, the Washington Capitals now take pride in shutting down their opponents.
Their newfound defensive prowess was more than a match for Montreal’s suddenly anemic offence.
Braden Holtby made 18 saves for his second shutout, Marco Sturm and Alexander Semin scored, and Washington sent the Canadiens to their third straight shutout loss with a 2-0 victory Saturday night.
Holtby, recalled from Hershey of the AHL earlier in the day, faced little offence from Montreal, which had not been held scoreless in three straight games since Oct. 23-29, 1949.
“Nobody’s really having much fun right now,” said Montreal goaltender Carey Price, who stopped 31 shots.
Washington played its third straight game without injured captain Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals have won 14 of 17 and are second overall in the Eastern Conference with 98 points, two behind Philadelphia.
“I think for most of them now it’s fun to win by not allowing the other team to score, whereas last year it was fun to win because we scored six goals,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “If we’d get up 5-1, it would end up 6-4, and they weren’t upset about it, but now they get upset when they get scored on so it’s a big difference.”
Elsewhere in the NHL it was: Detroit 4 Toronto 2; Calgary 5 Edmonton 4 (SO); Los Angeles 4 Colorado 1; Philadelphia 4 New York Islanders 1; New York Rangers 1 Boston 0; Buffalo 2 New Jersey 0; Tampa Bay 4 Carolina 2; Anaheim 2 Chicago 1; San Jose 4 Phoenix 1; Nashville 4 Dallas 2; and St. Louis 6 Minnesota 3.
At Montreal, Nicklas Backstrom assisted on both Washington goals, including Sturm’s fifth of the season 1:24 in.
“It’s always really important, especially here in this rink, to get the early lead and get the crowd a little bit quiet,” said Sturm, who scored his first goal in 13 games with Washington, which acquired him on waivers from Los Angeles on Feb. 26.
Semin got his 26th goal with 3:41 to go in the game when he put away Backstrom’s centring pass to finish off a two-man break.
Montreal, which has been outscored 11-0 over the course of its three-game losing streak, is now tied for sixth place in the East with the New York Rangers, who also have 87 points.
“Those teams are coming up and we can’t get scared and start gripping our sticks even more because that’s not going to help,” Price said.
The Canadiens, who lost 7-0 in Boston on Thursday and 2-0 to Buffalo on Tuesday, have been held without a goal for just over 186 minutes since Sunday, when they had their highest-scoring game in three years in an 8-1 win in Minnesota.
“It’s just a matter of us not doing the things we have to do,” Canadiens captain Brian Gionta said. “It’s easy to point to offence for not scoring but it’s a reflection of our overall game right now.”
Price was at somewhat of a loss to explain Montreal’s inability to score any goals lately.
“I think we just used them all up in Minnesota, but we’ve just got to get back to basics and we can’t dwell on this,” he said. “We’ve just got to pick our heads up and know we can do it.”
Shut out for the 10th time this season one night earlier in Ottawa, the Capitals struck early to take a quick 1-0 lead.
Backstrom drove the right side and fired a shot that Price stopped. The rebound dropped into the slot where Sturm whacked a low shot past the Montreal goalie.
Outshot 12-3 in the first period, the Canadiens fared little better the rest of the way as Washington held a 14-8 advantage in the second and 33-18 overall.
“That’s all the credit to the way we came out and we were prepared, and luckily they didn’t put much of a push because we were sticking to our game plan very well,” said Holtby, whose last start for the Capitals was a 4-2 victory in Montreal on March 15 for his fifth straight win, and Washington’s ninth in a row.
The 21-year-old rookie got the nod over Semyon Varlamov, who made his first start in 15 games in Friday’s road loss to the Senators.
“He did a great job because he looked like he was in control,” Boudreau said.
At Detroit, Jiri Hudler broke a third-period tie and added an assist, Henrik Zetterberg also had a goal and an assist and Detroit beat Toronto.
At Edmonton, Alex Tanguay scored in the first round of a shootout to give Calgary a comeback victory over the Oilers. Calgary, down 4-1 early in the third period, is ninth in the Western Conference, a point behind eighth-place Chicago.
At Los Angeles, Ryan Smyth had a goal and an assist, Michael Handzus connected on a power play, and the Kings beat Colorado after losing scoring leader Anze Kopitar for at least six weeks because of a broken right ankle.
At Uniondale, N.Y., James van Riemsdyk scored two goals in the first period and finished his first NHL hat trick in the third to help Philadelphia remain alone atop the Eastern Conference.
At Boston, Henrik Lundqvist stopped 26 shots for his NHL-leading 11th shutout, and Derek Stepan deflected Michael Sauer’s shot into the net for the only goal to lead New York past the Bruins.
At Buffalo, N.Y., Ryan Miller stopped 30 shots for his fifth shutout of the season and the Sabres all but ended New Jersey’s playoff hopes.
At Raleigh, N.C., Simon Gagne scored two goals, the second into an empty net in the final minute, to help Tampa Bay beat Carolina.
At Chicago, Corey Perry scored twice in third period and Anaheim’s surging top line powered the Ducks.
At Glendale, Ariz., Antti Niemi made 25 saves, and Logan Couture scored twice for San Jose.
At Nashville, Tenn., Mike Fisher and David Legwand each scored twice to help Nashville extend its winning streak to six games.
At St. Paul, Minn., Chris Stewart and David Backes scored 23 seconds apart in the second period, and Matt D’Agostini, Adam Cracknell, Alex Pietrangelo and Patrik Berglund also scored for St. Louis.