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Ovechkin helps struggling Caps beat Canadiens 4-1

Alex Ovechkin returned from an injury to combine with Jason Chimera on a pair of goals 16 seconds apart Friday night, and the Washington Capitals ended a three-game losing streak by beating the Montreal Canadiens 4-1.

Ovechkin missed Washington's previous game, at Ottawa on Wednesday, with a lower-body injury. As it is, the two-time MVP is having what might wind up as his worst NHL season, with only 25 goals and 21 assists so far. He went into Friday with all of four goals in the preceding month.

But Ovechkin's slap shot from the left circle off Dmitry Orlov's pass got past goalie Carey Price at 8:58 of the second period, while the official scoring for Chimera's breakaway goal still was being announced over the loudspeakers.

Ovechkin dropped a knee to the ice and punched a glove to celebrate.

Mathieu Perreault scored for the hosts in the first period, and Joel Ward added an empty-netter with 35.1 seconds left. Michal Neuvirth made 30 saves, although he did allow the first goal Montreal has scored against Washington since March 15, 2011. Rene Bourque's short-handed breakaway goal 3:42 into the third period ended a drought of 260 minutes, 14 seconds for the Canadiens against the Capitals, stretching over five games, including three shutouts. Bourque's goal came after Ovechkin turned over the puck.

But by the time that happened, Washington held a 3-0 lead Friday in what might be a key game for the future of the franchise.

The NHL trade deadline arrives Monday, and Capitals general manager George McPhee needs to decide whether he wants to be a buyer or a seller — in essence, determine whether the team he assembled is capable of making noise in the postseason or whether Washington needs to try a new approach.

McPhee already tried changing coaches this season, firing Bruce Boudreau — who's found success jump-starting his new employer, the Anaheim Ducks — and handing the team over to Dale Hunter.

Given that the Capitals had won only one of their past seven games, and four of their past 15 — dropping them from first place to third in the Southeast Division, and to 10th in the Eastern Conference entering Friday — they were in need of a strong performance. And they delivered against Montreal, which has lost three games in a row, is in last place in the East and isn't exactly playing inspired hockey.

In the first period, some casual defense by the Canadiens allowed the Capitals to do something they're not really used to lately: take a lead. With the puck staying almost exclusively in Washington's offensive end, Chimera sent a pass across the ice to Perreault, who was pretty much left alone to make it 1-0 at 6:58.

That ended a run of six consecutive games in which Washington trailed 1-0; indeed, in four of their previous five games, the Capitals fell behind 2-0.

For Perreault, it was his 11th goal of the season — and 10th scored with his stick. His last goal came when the puck ricocheted in off his face.

NOTES: The Capitals said Ovechkin is the 17th player in NHL history — and third active player — with at least 25 goals in each of his first seven seasons. ... Bourque was with the Calgary Flames when he was suspended for five games after elbowing Capitals C Nicklas Backstrom in the head Jan. 3. Backstrom hasn't played since. ... Washington RW Mike Knuble was a healthy scratch for the fourth time in the past eight games, and D Roman Hamrlik was held out for the second straight game. ... The Capitals travel to Toronto on Saturday, while the Canadiens are at Florida on Sunday.