ARLINGTON, Va. -- The honest and blunt assessment that Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau gave about his best players not being at their best Thursday night did not go unnoticed.
Alex Ovechkin admitted Friday that he has to change a few things. Mike Green said the Capitals' top guys have to move their legs better to be efficient. Mike Knuble didn't just put it on the top guys; he said everyone has to be better Saturday (7 p.m. ET, Versus, TSN, RDS) if the Capitals are going to pull even in this best-of-7 series before it shifts to Montreal for Game 3 Monday.
Montreal won Game 1 in overtime, 3-2.
"There is no use in sugarcoating it. If we're going to do well you need your best players to be your best players," Knuble said. "It is a pretty blunt assessment and sometimes you can't sugarcoat things. When you're in the playoffs you need to be going all the time, but it's alright, though. It's early on in the series and everybody in our locker room has complete confidence in what we've done and what we can do going forward. We can be better."
The top line of Ovechkin, Knuble and Nicklas Backstrom was definitely off. Outside of the fact that Ovechkin was held without a shot on goal, Knuble bemoaned the fact that they didn't generate quality chances because they weren't strong enough with the puck down low or off the rush.
"We didn't get a lot of those quality chances that we usually get," Knuble said. "Ovi is going to be hard on himself and hard on the guys he plays with. He expects a lot, so you have to be able to go along with him and be ready when the time comes."
Green and Alexander Semin also had non-descript games. In fact, the Capitals' best forward line was probably the fourth unit of Matt Bradley, David Steckel and Boyd Gordon. Their best defenseman was arguably rookie John Carlson.
Worse yet, there were several key moments in Thursday's game when the Caps needed their best players to shine and they didn't. It's one of the main reasons why Washington fell in overtime. Semin was called for hooking Scott Gomez 6:01 into the game, giving the Canadiens' 2nd-ranked power play an early chance. They managed only one shot, though.
"He just knows you can't do the lift the stick on the hands," Boudreau said of Semin. "It was a bad play by him."
Roughly six minutes later Backstrom committed a needless, retaliatory penalty when he was called for cross-checking Jaroslav Spacek while in the offensive zone. Twenty-five seconds into Backstrom's penalty, Mike Cammalleri gave Montreal a 1-0 lead.
"Nicky retaliated and you can count on one hand how many times Nicky's retaliated this year," Boudreau said. "I think it was an honest play."
Green and Ovechkin were each at fault for Gomez's tying goal 7:34 into the third period.
Ovechkin was over-aggressive in the neutral zone when he tried to hit the speedy Gomez, but he missed and gave Brian Gionta free ice down the right side because he was in no position to backcheck.
"Yeah, I tried to hit him, but he had a small space between me and Backy and he just go away," Ovechkin said. "If I hit him it probably wouldn't have been a goal."
After going around Ovechkin's charge, Gomez dished it off to Gionta and dashed to the net. He snaked behind Green and tapped-in Gionta's saucer pass through the slot.
"It was just a bang-bang play and he got a good stick on it," Green said. "I was trying to gap up and when I turned around the pass had been made and it happened so quick that it was tough to prevent."
Green gave Montreal a power play late in regulation when he inadvertently lifted the bouncing puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. The Habs had a power play for the first 1:34 of overtime, but couldn't convert.
And, finally, before Plekanec scored his winning goal, it appeared that Joe Corvo was trying to make a diagonal pass up the ice toward either Backstrom or Ovechkin. The puck deflected, but Ovechkin didn't react to it and went off for a change while Backstrom played soft defense against Spacek, who banged it up off the boards for Plekanec.
"I don't know what's going to happen (Saturday)," Ovechkin said, "but probably it's going to be a different game for us for sure."
They can't afford another doozy like they had Thursday.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl