MONTREAL (AP)The Washington Capitals proved they can score a lot of goals even without Alex Ovechkin.
Jakub Vrana had a goal and an assist as the Eastern Conference-leading Capitals beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 Monday night for their fourth straight win.
Tom Wilson, Travis Boyd and Nicklas Backstrom also scored for the Capitals, and T.J. Oshie had two assists. Washington, 7-1-0 in its last eight games at Bell Centre, was without star forward Alex Ovechkin while he missed his first game this season to serve a one-game suspension for skipping the All-Star Game.
”That’s a big goal-scoring loss for us there, but we stuck together as a team,” Vrana said. ”We still kept creating chances today, especially that fourth line. They played really good. … That was a great team win. It’s really important, coming into the playoffs, to know that.”
Braden Holtby made 31 saves and improved to 14-2-2 in his career against Montreal.
Jeff Petry and Dale Weise scored for the Canadiens, who began the night 10 points out of a playoff spot. Carey Price stopped 36 shots.
Washington has been struggling lately with the man advantage but the Capitals managed to score with Max Domi in the box. Trailing 1-0, Wilson beat Price short side, between pad and post, on a pass from Vrana behind the net with 1:30 left in the first to tie the score. Vrana extended his point streak to nine games.
The Capitals took a 2-1 lead 2:03 into the second when Petry accidentally kicked a loose puck behind his own goal line. The last Capitals player to touch the puck was Boyd, who was credited with his third of the year.
A great play by Evgeny Kuznetsov make it 3-1 with 5:09 left in the middle period. Kuznetsov stripped veteran Shea Weber of the puck in the corner and directed it into the slot while lying on the ice, which led to Vrana scoring between Price’s legs.
Montreal coach Claude Julien blamed the loss on a mistake-filled and disorganized second period.
”We’re digging ourselves into a hole sometimes,” Julien said. ”It’s not always a case of bad luck. Sometimes it’s a lack of concentration. If you want to win, you can’t play that way.
”Our sloppiness is costing us games and we can’t afford to be sloppy.”
The Canadiens fired 15 shots on net in the third period and felt they got one goal back when Joel Armia nearly scored, but Holtby narrowly snagged the puck off the line.
”We had a ton of good scoring chances but Holtby made some big saves for them,” Montreal rookie Nick Suzuki said. ”We have to find a way to put them in the net. There were some pretty crazy bounces.”
Weise did beat Holtby on the backhand a few minutes later, at 7:30, for his first of the season in his 500th career NHL game. But Holtby shut the door for the remainder of the game as Washington improved to 19-6-1 on the road.
Backstrom added the empty netter with 23 seconds remaining.
An unconventional odd-man rush led to the game’s first goal at 1:55 of the first. Tomas Tatar hit the breaks and held onto the puck on a 3-on-2, long enough for Petry to creep in behind the Washington defense. Tatar then fed Petry, who slid the puck under Holtby’s outstretched right pad on the backhand.
Both teams were coming off their bye week and it showed in the first with numerous broken plays, offsides and icings.
NOTES: The Canadiens paid video tribute to Kobe Bryant during the American national anthem. … Montreal forwards Jonathan Drouin (wrist), Paul Byron (knee) and Brendan Gallagher (head) all remain sidelined with injuries.
Capitals: Host Nashville on Wednesday night.
Canadiens: At Buffalo on Thursday night.
More AP NHL: www.apnews.com/NHL and www.twitter.com/AP-Sports