MONTREAL — There was one figure that stood out on a night when the Canadiens had trouble getting the puck behind Washington backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth.
Neuvirth, who seems to save his best performances for the Canadiens, made 27 saves in Washington’s 3-2 win over Montreal Tuesday, but he had plenty of help from his teammates who blocked 34 shots.
“We knew with that team that we were facing the hottest team in the NHL and we knew it was going to be a challenge,” said coach Michel Therrien. “Our level of intensity was not the same as we’re used to, especially at the start. After that, I thought that it went both ways. We had some opportunities to get the puck at the net, but they did a great job to be in those shooting lanes.”
And, said Therrien, it was a different story at the other end of the ice where Carey Price gave up three goals on 27 shots.
The Canadiens had two big letdowns. They were outshot 9-0 over the first six minutes of the game and they had another of their second-period lapses as Alex Ovechkin and Eric Fehr scored in a 1:47 span to give Washington a 2-1 lead.
“Except for three or four games this season, our first period has been good but we has a lapse in the first eight, 10 minutes tonight,” said captain Brian Gionta. “I thought we countered and we didn’t give up when they had a 3-1 lead in the third.
“That shows the character we have on this team,” Gionta added. “We definitely pushed back, (but) it’s tough when you give up two goals and you lose the momentum.”
Neuvirth came into the game with a 3-5-1 record, but he improved his record against the Canadiens to 5-2-0.
“He played pretty good,” said Gionta. ”He made some good saves, but he made the first save and we weren’t able to penetrate and make that second and third try. Goalies in this league are going to make those first saves and you have to jump on them.”
Lars Eller scored both Montreal goals — his fifth and sixth of the season — and said he was trying to go to the net more.
“You’re going to get some ugly goals when you do that,” said Eller. He was trailing the play when Brandon Prust set him up from behind the net on the first goal and he tipped Nathan Beaulieu’s shot from the point for the other goal.
Therrien made some line changes in the third period as he put Michael Ryder on the line with Eller and Alex Galchenyuk, while Rene Bourque, who was returning after missing 21 games with a concussion, was moved off the fourth line to play with Gionta and Tomas Plekanec.
When asked what Ryder could bring to his line, Eller replied: “Goals. He’s a great shooter and a great weapon on any line he plays on. We’re going to feed him the puck.”
Beaulieu, who was recalled from Hamilton after Alexei Emelin tore up his knee, said he had a better idea of what to expect in his second trip to the NHL. He played 14 minutes and was a plus-2.
“I knew the routine and that helps,” said Beaulieu.
Bourque said he felt rusty at the beginning of the game, but said he felt comfortable in the third period when he was reunited with Plekanec and Gionta.
He finished the game with four shots on goal and six hits.
“I was confident that I was ready to go and I got a couple of hits in early,” said Bourque. “I got on the forecheck to get me into the game. Getting bumped around wakes you up a little.”
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