Earlier today, Washington Capitals assistant coach Jim Johnson had a simple but effective method for motivating his players. The Caps had lost the last three games of a four game road trip, and had missed a golden opportunity to move back among the 8 teams that will qualify for the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. So, Johnson simply posted the current Eastern Conference standings in the Capitals locker room.
The tactic worked, at least for one game. Washington scored early in the first period against the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center, which is helpful considering that, going into the game, the Caps were 18-6-5 when scoring the first goal. Mathieu Perreault slipped the puck past Carey Price at the 6:58 mark after a Jason Chimera pass from the boards was not cleared by the Montreal defense.
In the second period, the Capitals scored two goals 16 seconds apart to take control of the game. Jason Chimera scored on a breakaway, as the puck followed the sliding Carey Price into the goal. After a shift change on the ensuing face-off, Marcus Johansson, who played his first good hockey game in a long time, led an odd-man rush into the Montreal zone. MoJo dropped the puck for Dmitry Orlov, who fed Alex Ovechkin a sweet pass for a vicious one-time slapshot that he ripped past a helpless Carey Price. Joel Ward would add an empty net goal in the closing seconds of the game to ice the 4-1 victory.
The Capitals also got a strong performance in goal for the first time all week, and they didn't even need Don Beaupre. Michal Neuvirth stopped 30 of 31 shots, and extended Montreal's scoreless streak against the Caps to 260:14, before finally surrendering a short-handed goal to the infamous Rene Bourque early in the third period. Surprisingly, the Verizon Center crowd barely booed Bourque throughout the course of the game, without so much as a hiss when he scored the goal. Good thing for Bourque that I wasn't there.
This win is exactly what the Capitals needed. They have been dominant at home but woeful on the road, so doing what they do best should give them some confidence as they head to Toronto for tomorrow night's game.
Although Jim Johnson finding the sports section of the Toronto newspaper wouldn't hurt either.