Before last night's encounter, it had been the Canadiens who were flying high - 4-1-1 over the first six games of the season. The Capitals (3-3) were the ones who had been struggling to find their skates.
In the Capitals' first six games, superstar Jaromir Jagr was sidelined for three games with a sprained knee, defensemen Calle Johansson and Brendan Witt were shaken up and sidelined for several games, and the team announced on Thursday that rugged veteran co-captain Steve Konowalchuk would need surgery to repair a separated shoulder and would be out for three to four months.
But last night, 1:07 into the middle period, Peter Bondra scored the first of two second-period power-play goals, and Jaromir Jagr scored 49 seconds later to give Montreal a clear look at Washington's one-two punch and the devastation the two most productive goal scorers in the league can bring.
"We faced the best power play in the league," said Montreal coach Michel Therrien. "This is obviously the best team that we've faced this year and they deserved to win."
Therrien's Canadiens played well in the early going and took a 1-0 lead at 9:17 of the first period. Montreal defenseman Patrice Brisebois scored through a double screen in front of goalie Olie Kolzig.
And though Washington attacked Canadiens goaltender Jose Theodore throughout the period -with two power plays and 14 shots - it could not break through.
But then, the Capitals, who returned home for this one game before heading out for four games beginning tonight in Philadelphia, took over.
First, it was Bondra, with his sixth goal of the season and a league-leading fourth on the power play, who tied the game when center Adam Oates got him the puck off a faceoff, setting off the first wild celebration among the announced crowd of 18,222.
Then, 49 seconds later, Jagr, who returned to the lineup for the first time since being injured in New York last week, was fed on a breakaway by Caps defenseman Joe Reekie. Jagr sprinted down the ice, shuffled the puck right and then left and then blasted it over Theodore's right shoulder. Washington led 2-1.
"I wasn't sure how I would play, because I didn't practice and I'm wearing a brace," said Jagr. "It makes it hard to turn. But Joe made a nice pass and then I was one-on-one against the goalie. Usually, I shoot. But I deked, because I saw he'd been making a lot of saves. He was in good position and I wanted to make sure I gave him a good move."
The move was excellent, as were a number of others, as the Caps played well at both ends of the ice.
Caps center Trevor Linden scored Washington's third goal of the night at 6:22 of the middle period off assists from Bondra and Sergei Gonchar.
Montreal 1 0 0 - 1
Washington 0 4 0 - 4
First period-1, Montreal, Brisebois 1 (Brunet, Dackell), 9:17. Penalties-Witt, Was (roughing), 6:30; Quintal, Mon (cross-checking), 10:11; Bondra, Was (boarding), 11:38; Montreal bench, served by Petrov (too many men), 14:25.
Second period-2, Washington, Bondra 6 (Oates), 1:07 (pp). 3, Washington, Jagr 2 (Reekie), 1:56. 4, Washington, Linden 1 (Bondra, Gonchar), 6:22 (pp). 5, Washington, Bondra 7 (Gonchar, P.Ferraro), 12:54 (pp). Penalties-Zednik, Mon (cross-checking), 1:05; Souray, Mon (roughing), 4:55; Odjick, Mon (holding stick), 12:50; Klee, Was (interference), 19:24.
Third period-None. Penalties-Quintal, Mon (interference), 10:59; Reekie, Was (cross-checking), 16:54.
Shots on goal-Montreal 8-10-11-29. Washington 14-12-9-35. Missed penalty shot-Kilger, Mon, 12:08 3rd. Power-play opportunities-Montreal 0 of 4; Washington 3 of 6. Goalies-Montreal, Theodore 1-2-1 (26 shots-22 saves), Hackett (0:00 third 9-9). Washington, Kolzig 4-2-0 (29-28). A-18,222 (18,672).