WASHINGTON — The Capitals picked up a much-needed first win of the season Saturday, avoiding an 0-3 start with a decisive 3-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens. A personnel shakeup on the top three forward lines and power play units saw immediate results as the second line scored and Washington picked up a goal with the man advantage.
For the third-straight game, however, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov were held scoreless. It’s not like they haven’t been close. Ovechkin hit the crossbar on a power-play shot against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday and had a goal called back Saturday after the Canadiens challenged that forward Aliaksei Protas was offside when the puck entered the offensive zone. Kuznetsov picked up his first assist of the year in Saturday’s win.
But so far, the two highest-paid active players on the Capitals’ roster haven’t provided the offensive production that has been expected out of them throughout their careers. In the meantime, Washington has had to rely on the rest of its roster to keep it in games.
No line has scored more goals than the fourth-line trio of Conor Sheary (two goals), Nic Dowd (one) and Garnet Hathaway.
“We need everybody contributing,” head coach Peter Laviolette said in his postgame press conference Saturday. “Everybody’s gotta be pulling their own weight. Conor’s been, he’s been really good in the games so far, so has Nic and his line. That line has been good and Shears has been good on that line and they can control play, they’re good defensively and when they chip in offensively, that’s a good sign.”
Sheary finished Saturday’s game tied with winger Anthony Mantha for the most goals on the young season. Mantha scored against the Canadiens as well, taking a feed from Kuznetsov to give the Capitals the lead in the second period.
Mantha, 28, will have the opportunity to play a significant role in the Capitals’ scoring early on this season while Tom Wilson works his way back from a torn ACL. The eight-year NHL veteran has dealt with a string of his own injuries since arriving in a blockbuster trade with the Detroit Red Wings midway through the 2020-21 season.
“I feel like I start every year healthy, but it’s just bad luck, I guess,” Mantha said. “Hopefully this year I stay healthy and I play all 82 games.”
The Capitals fully expect to see Ovechkin and Kuznetsov among their team leaders in goals scored by the end of the year. Until they get going, however, players like Sheary and Mantha will be critical to extending Washington’s victory Saturday into a streak going forward.