- The Washington Times
Thursday, February 20, 2020

Alex Ovechkin is now one goal shy of 700 for his career. Unfortunately for the Washington Capitals, the team also fell a goal shy on Thursday.

Ovechkin scored his first goal in five games and the Capitals forced overtime late, but it wasn’t enough as they lost at home to the Montreal Canadiens, 4-3.

Tom Wilson punched in a 6-on-5 goal with 20 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at three. But Montreal defenseman Ben Chiarot scored the winner on a one-timer through Braden Holtby’s five-hole just 58 seconds into overtime, Chairot’s second goal of the night.

Ovechkin scored 7:29 into the game, his 41st of the season. Nicklas Backstrom won an offensive-zone faceoff, Ovechkin picked up the puck behind him and flung it past goaltender Carey Price.

It was the captain’s first goal since Feb. 4 and gave the home crowd hope that they would witness No. 700, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Lars Eller also scored and Braden Holtby made 28 saves for the Capitals (37-17-6, 80 points). They tied the Pittsburgh Penguins, who lost Thursday, for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Washington has struggled to a 1-4-1 mark in its last six games, and one main theme of their lull has been slow starts — often allowing the first goal of the game and being forced to play from behind. Players were happier with Thursday’s start, but it was a mixed bag: The Capitals got on the board first, but only after giving up a pair of breakaways in the first several minutes that Holtby had to stop himself.

“Obviously we’re giving up way too many breakaways,” Backstrom said. “Luckily enough, Holtby bailed us out tonight in the first there. But I just think it’s not just positioning. It starts with managing the puck. We’ve got to be a little smarter with the puck, I think. We’ve got to chip it in to one of our guys, not one of their guys.”

Carl Hagelin was even blunter about the Capitals‘ puck management.

“I’m seeing way too many turnovers right now,” he said. “You can see when we get the puck deep, we create some offense. Especially against a team like this who have five guys back and they backcheck really hard with a lot of speed, you’ve got to get it deep. You’ve got to make them make mistakes. It was too easy of a game for them.

“It almost feels like we think it’s boring to play that way,” Hagelin added. “But you win when you play that way, and that’s the way hockey should be played and that’s when hockey’s fun.”

Ovechkin’s tally gave Washington the lead for most of the first period, until Montreal tied the game when Shea Weber unloaded a shot from the blue line that slipped by Holtby.

The Capitals had a sluggish second period, but Eller got on the board with a hustle play behind the net. The former Canadien won a puck battle and went around to the far post. A Montreal stick chipped the puck into the air, where Eller was able to bat it in under Price’s armpit.

But the lead barely lasted 90 seconds. Brendan Gallagher corralled a teammate’s blocked shot, keeping it away from Backstrom’s and John Carlson’s reach in order to score. Then, on the first shift of the third, Ben Chiarot received a wide-open pass at the left circle and snapped it home.

In his team debut after being traded from San Jose to Washington this week, defenseman Brenden Dillon played on the top pairing with Carlson. He saw 20:22 of ice time with a hit and two takeaways — but he and Carlson were on the ice for all three of Montreal’s regulation goals.

“It was important for us to get him in the lineup tonight going into a really important weekend against Metro teams,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “I didn’t expect it to be perfect. We saw some good things that he could do for sure. Puck movement, long stick and reach … He’s not going to solve all of our problems at the front of the net. That’s a group effort.”

Dillon chalked up the Canadiens‘ goals to “just a few pucks bouncing” the wrong way.

“On two of them, the defensemen getting shots through,” Dillon said. “Maybe we can try and block or get into the lane or try and help out to get those ones obviously not going in. I think at the end of the day it’s just going to get better from here. Just another day of practice tomorrow and continue to build that chemistry.”

The Capitals have a back-to-back this weekend when they visit the New Jersey Devils on Saturday and host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday.

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