Capitals defeat Canadiens to spoil St. Louis' 1st game as interim coach

Martin St. Louis' first game as interim head coach didn't help Montreal Canadiens grab a first win since Jan. 18. Joe Snively had his first two-goal game in the NHL and the Capitals defeated the Habs 5-2 on Thursday.

Former player was hired on Wednesday by Montreal

Montreal Canadiens interim head coach Martin St. Louis looks on from behind the bench during first period NHL hockey action against the Washington Capitals in Montreal on Thursday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The Martin St. Louis effect didn't give the Montreal Canadiens a first win since Jan. 18 but Montreal's new interim head coach liked the fight his new team gave him.

Despite a 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, the Hockey Hall of Famer enjoyed his first night behind the Bell Centre bench. The Habs are still struggling, increasing their winless skid to eight games, but the players fought and tried to carve out a comeback as they outshot the Caps 44-23.

"It was amazing. I just love how we fought, I feel like we just kept getting better as the game went and that was fun to see," St. Louis said.

The Canadiens pulled their goalie for the fifth time in six games but unlike other outings, the team picked up steam instead of falling flat.

Down 4-2 in the third period after Cole Caufield broke a 17-game goalless drought, the rookie bagged a third marker for Montreal with just over five minutes left in regulation. A Washington coach's challenge reversed Caufield's second marker, ending Montreal's chances.

"The third goal, you just hope that it's inconclusive and the goal stands and now you go on the power play," St. Louis said. "We stayed the course, we didn't cheat. I really feel that the only thing we didn't do tonight is win."

With only a day behind his coaching belt, St. Louis looked to leave his mark on his new team. Thursday morning, he addressed his players and shared what he wanted from them. While the players didn't want to share his words verbatim, St. Louis found a way to galvanize them.

"He came in full of energy, it looked like he wanted to lace 'em up," said Josh Anderson. "It was pretty exciting for all of us and you could see a couple of jaws drop."

"With Marty, the way he talks, the way he presents himself, the way he wants to work with the players and the organization and he wants to build a winning culture."

It was also a special moment for Caufield, who draws a lot of comparison to St. Louis with his size and speed.

'I grew up wearing number 26 because of him'

"I'm really excited, I grew up wearing number 26 because of him and it's crazy that he's our coach," he said. "Every time he speaks, I just want to listen and soak it all in. I'm going to learn a lot from him and I'm really excited to see what we can do. We'll have fun along the way but there's a lot of learning to do and I'm excited for that."

After saying he was "embarrassed" following Montreal's 7-1 home loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, Anderson was encouraged with how his team responded.

"I think a fire was just lit right under our rear ends and everybody was ready to go tonight," he said. "We needed to react from what happened yesterday with [Dominique Ducharme's] firing and what happened in the New Jersey game."

Connor McMicheal and Carl Hagelin added goals while Tom Wilson bagged the empty-netter to help the Caps snap a two-game losing streak. Ilya Samsonov let in two goals and made 42 saves.

Cayden Primeau allowed four goals from 15 shots before getting pulled. Samuel Montembeault was brought in at 5:18 of the second period and blocked all eight shots sent his way.

The Capitals stunned the Habs with two quick goals early in the first period. Snively picked up his first NHL goal by jumping on a Primeau rebound to break the ice for the Caps at 5:04.

Twenty seconds later, McMicheal's shot from the high slot beat Primeau — screened by two players — between the pads.

The Capitals took a three-goal lead back from the first intermission. Hagelin took the puck from his own end, drove the length of the ice and scored with a wrist shot from a tight angle.

Montreal responded at 4:03 of the second period when Rem Pitlick grabbed a loose puck in Samsonov's crease, giving his team a chance at a comeback.

The Capitals replied with a goal of their own just over a minute later. Snively added a second marker to his tally, taking a jab at the Habs' hopes and forcing St. Louis to pull Primeau.

Caufield brought his team back in contention before the end of the second. The rookie received Nick Suzuki's pass, tried his luck from a tight angle and reduced Montreal's deficit to two.

Caufield notched a second with 5:09 left in regulation but it was disallowed after Washington challenged the play. After review, the challenge showed that Tyler Toffoli tried to keep the puck in the offensive zone from an offside position.

Wilson iced the game with the empty-netter at 18:45 to seal the win for the Capitals.

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