LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals emerged from their version of purgatory last night. On their sixth attempt this season, the Capitals finally reached .500 with a strong-checking, 3-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
"It's nice to be there, at .500. Hopefully now we'll start moving up the standings," said coach Jim Schoenfeld. "We won in Philadelphia and went from 10th to sixth in the conference. We won tonight, and I think we move to fifth. That's how close everyone is. If you have a bad week, you get left behind."
The Caps used a goal by Peter Bondra to tie the game early and then forged ahead on Kelly Miller's first goal of the season. An unassisted goal 1: 40 into the third period by defenseman Sergei Gonchar added insurance.
In net, Caps goalie Jim Carey repeatedly denied the second-most potent offensive unit in the NHL, stopping 30 of 31 shots. The only goal he allowed came on the first shot of the game, a one-timer by Brian Savage 54 seconds into the contest.
The Capitals are now 9-9 after starting the season 1-5. But life does not get easier this week. Monday they travel to Eastern Conference-leading Florida and then return to USAir Arena for a Tuesday game with Boston before facing nemesis New Jersey in back-to-back games Friday and next Saturday.
The Caps are 0-9-1 against the Devils over the past three seasons.
The Capitals broke a 1-1 tie near the midway point of the second period, when the checking line of Miller, Dale Hunter and Steve Konowalchuk took the ice. Konowalchuk and Hunter did the work along the boards and then Hunter passed to Miller, who was moving toward the slot in front of Montreal goalie Jocelyn Thibault.
Miller shot and Thibault stopped it. The rebound came back to Miller, who held his ground and shot it back. This time Thibault was no factor, and at 9: 16, the Caps had a 2-1 lead.
"Montreal has a very good offensive team, but they're weak defensively and we had to take advantage of that," said Miller. "I was just fortunate enough to get my own rebound. Dale did the work on the boards and Kono gave me all kinds of time in front of the net."
The second period came to an end without further scoring. Washington, which lost starting defensemen Sylvain Cote and Calle Johansson for four to six weeks with knee ligament damage and a broken jaw, respectively, had held a strong offensive team to just one goal in 40 minutes.
"At times during the game, Jim Carey made some big saves, especially when we were on the power play," said Montreal coach Mario Tremblay. "I really believe he kept Washington in the game. It was a close game but I think the difference was in the net. Jim Carey was outstanding."
Bondra's goal at 11: 16 of the first was his sixth of the season and moved him into a tie with Joe Juneau for the team lead in goal scoring.
Montreal ..1 0 0 -- 1
Washington 1 1 1 -- 3
First period--1, Montreal, Savage 9 (Koivu, Recchi), : 54. 2, Washington, Bondra 6 (Simon, Housley), 8: 44. Penalties--Thornton, Mon (roughing), 2: 51; Berube, Was (roughing), 2: 51; Thornton, Mon (roughing), 6: 19; Murray, Mon, misconduct, 6: 19; Simon, Was (roughing), 6: 19; Allison, Was (tripping), 12: 28.
Second period--3, Washington, Miller 1 (Konowalchuk, Hunter), 9: 16. Penalties--Quintal, Mon (slashing), 6: 45; Klee, Was (interference), 12: 21.
Third period--4, Washington, Gonchar 4 (Krygier, Juneau), 1: 40. Penalties--Corson, Mon (roughing), 19: 08; Tucker, Mon (cross-checking), 19: 08; Gonchar, Was (roughing), 19: 08; Kamenski, Was (roughing), 19: 08; Koivu, Mon (slashing), 19: 12; Eagles, Was (slashing), 19: 12.
Shots on goal--Montreal 9-12-10--31. Washington 5-9-10--24. Power-play opportunities--Montreal 0 of 2; Washington 0 of 1. Goalies--Montreal, Thibault 2-4-1 (24 shots-21 saves). Washington, Carey 7-5-0 (31-30). A--18,130 (18,130). Referee--Paul Devorski. Linesmen--Kevin Collins, Stephan Provost.
Pub Date: 11/16/96