WASHINGTON (AP) — Coming out of the Christmas break, the Washington Capitals were determined to sustain the momentum they achieved before the four-day vacation.
They were also intent on keeping Montreal from emerging from its December funk.
The Capitals achieved both those objectives Saturday night, jumping to an early lead and riding the solid goaltending of Braden Holtby to a 3-1 victory.
Holtby stopped 29 shots and Jason Chimera contributed a goal and an assist in the Capitals' seventh straight victory.
The key goal, however, just might have been the one from Evgeny Kuznetsov that enabled Washington to take a 1-0 lead into the locker room after the first period.
"We had a successful run before we had this break and we wanted to extend it," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "On the other hand, Montreal hasn't been going well. Sometimes a break can be cleansing a little bit, so we talked about trying to win the first period."
The Canadiens never pulled out of the first-period deficit and lost their sixth straight. Montreal has been outscored 22-6 during the skid and has dropped 10 of 11 since Dec. 1.
"We need to come in this room after the first period and not be in a hole," forward Max Pacioretty said. "That's the truth. If we're not scoring goals, we can't get scored on. It sounds simple, but we need to come into this room after the first period and feel good about ourselves."
Off to the best start in franchise history, Washington leads the Eastern Conference with a 26-6-2 record and has won eight straight at home. Jay Beagle also scored for the Capitals, who are 19-1 when scoring first and 12-0 when leading after the first period.
Even though leading scorers Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom didn't contribute a point, Washington picked up where it left off before the break.
"You don't know how you're going to respond," said Nate Schmidt, who had two assists. "We showed tonight we don't need everybody going. We had secondary scoring. It takes some of the pressure off our top guys."
Holtby allowed only a second-period goal to Daniel Carr in earning his NHL-leading 22nd victory. He's 8-0-2 lifetime against Montreal with a goals-against average well under 2.
Montreal's collapse coincides with the absence of top goaltender Carey Price and star right wing Brendan Gallagher. Price has been sidelined since Nov. 25 with a lower body injury and Gallagher missed his 15th straight game with broken fingers.
"We're looking, offensively, way too much for the perfect play with no results," coach Michel Therrien said.
Rookie goalie Mike Condon had 30 saves for the Canadiens, now 20-14-3 after a 19-4-3 start.
After Beagle put the Capitals up 2-0 at 1:30 of the second period with a wrist shot from the right circle, Carr scored just 24 seconds later, stuffing in the rebound of a shot by Andrei Markov.
Not long after that, Condon kicked away a shot by John Carlson at the end of a 2-on-1 involving Ovechkin.
Chimera clinched it at 11:15 of the third period, outskating Alexei Emelin down the right side on a breakaway and lifting the puck past Condon.
Washington outshot the Canadiens 10-5 in the first period and got the only goal at 6:45 when Kuznetsov deflected a shot by Schmidt into the net.
A lengthy fight between Montreal's Jarred Tinordi and Capitals winger Tom Wilson earned each five minutes in the penalty box, raising Wilson's total this season to 86 minutes in 34 games.
Wilson also had two assists.
NOTES: This was the fourth of eight straight road games for Montreal. ... Carr made his NHL debut on Dec. 5 and has four goals in 10 games and three in the last four. ... The Capitals recalled D Connor Carrick from Hershey (AHL) and scratched him from the game. ... Montreal's Lars Eller played in his 400th career game.
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