For the past several days Capitals coach Dale Hunter has stressed the need for better starts and better goaltending.
On Friday night he got both.
The Capitals struck first for the first time in seven games and Michal Neuvirth turned aside 30 of the 31 shots he faced to lead the Capitals to a 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens at the Verizon Center.
We were due for a good hockey game, Brooks Laich said, and we got a good hockey game.
Goals by Mathieu Perreault, Jason Chimera and Alex Ovechkin gave the Caps a 3-0 lead and Joel Ward finished off the last-place Canadiens with an empty netter.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak and moved the Caps into ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings, one point behind eighth-place Florida and two behind the Southeast Division-leading Winnipeg Jets.
The Caps have two games in hand on the Jets but have played two fewer games than the Panthers.
The win also sets up a huge game Saturday night in Toronto, where the Maple Leafs are tied with the Caps with 65 points and are in the midst of a 3-6-1 stretch.
It means a lot, said Neuvirth, who played in front of his family visiting from the Czech Republic. Its a big win for me. Its good.
Will Neuvirth get the call again and start on consecutive nights for the first time all season?
I cant answer this question, Neuvirth said after the game.
Will he be given a chance to win the starting job from Tomas Vokoun?
I dont know. I cant answer this question either.
The Capitals got things started early when Mathieu Perreault gave them a 1-0 lead 6:58 into the game. It was the first time in six games the Caps struck first.
Perreault, who set up a nice backhand attempt by Alex Semin that was snuffed out by Carey Price a few minutes earlier, did everything right on the play. His aggressive forecheck forced Montreal center Tomas Plekanec to hurry a clearing attempt along the boards that was intercepted by Chimera.
Chimera fired the puck at the net and found Perreault waiting there to tap in his 11th goal of the season and second in as many games.
Its huge, especially against a team on the road, Chimera said of the early lead. We know what its like to fight an uphill battle.
It stayed 1-0 through one period but the Caps exploded for two more goals in a span of 16 seconds to stretch the lead to 3-0.
Chimera converted a breakaway set up by Semin for his 16th goal of the season and second in 19 games. Chimera tried going 5-hole on Price, who closed his pads on the puck but slid over the goal line. A video review confirmed the goal call on the ice and the Caps were up 2-0 at the 8:42 mark.
It took the Capitals all of 16 seconds to strike again. This time it was Ovechkin finishing off a well-executed 3-on-1 with Marcus Johansson and Dmitry Orlov.
Johansson carried the puck over the blue line and dropped a pass for Orlov, who found Ovechkin cocked and ready atop the left circle. Ovechkin cranked a one-timer past Price for his team-leading 25th goal of the season and a 3-0 lead.
Neuvirth kept it that way through two periods, stopping all 19 shots he faced and extending the Habs scoreless streak against the Capitals to 256 minutes, 32 seconds, a stretch dating back to March 15, 2011.
That shutout streak ended 3:42 into the third period when Rene Bourque finished off a nice passing play by Alexei Emelin and Plekanec for a shorthanded goal that drew the Habs within 3-1.
It was a stupid mistake, Ovechkin said. I didnt see where everybody was and I threw a puck in the middle of the ice. I cant do that kind of mistake because theyre going to score.
Joel Ward scored into an empty net with 36 seconds remaining to ice the game and break a 21-game goal-less streak.
Hunter promised changes to the Capitals power play, which went into the game 2-for-21 over the previous six games. And although the Caps did not score on the man-advantage, they provided a new look with Brooks Laich joining Mike Green at the point on a first unit that had Alex Ovechkin, Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson up front.
The Caps second unit had Dmitry Orlov and Dennis Wideman at the points, with Jason Chimera, Alex Semin and Troy Brouwer up front.
On the penalty kill, Hunter went with a first unit of Brooks Laich, Jeff Halpern, Karl Alzner and John Carlson and a second unit of Troy Brouwer, Matt Hendricks, Jeff Schultz and Mike Green.
Laich made a big block on a P.K. Subban power-play slap shot early in the third period to preserve the Caps two-goal lead.
Former Calgary Flames nemesis Rene Bourque took a couple of runs at Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth. He stuck his left skate out to trip Neuvirth in the first period and was called for hooking.
In the second period Bourque was taken down hard by Mike Green when he made a bee-line toward the Caps net.