Jan. 25 vs. Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast Sports Network
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (22-21-8)
Montreal Canadiens (27-19-5)
The Capitals finish up their 10th set of games on back-to-back nights and also close out their 2013-14 season series with the Montreal Canadiens when they take on the Habs in a Hockey Night in Canada contest at Bell Centre on Saturday night. The game is the second stop on a five-game road journey for Washington.
Washington started its journey with a 2-1 loss to the Devils in New Jersey on Friday night. The loss was the Capitals’ seventh in a row (0-5-2) and their fifth regulation loss in a row. Washington hasn’t lost as many as seven in a row since an eight-game slide from Dec. 2-18, 2010 and it hasn’t dropped five straight in regulation since Nov. 10-21, 2007 when it lost five straight in regulation, a skid that cost then-head coach Glen Hanlon his job. The Caps were outscored 21-9 during that five-game stretch; they’ve been outscored 17-6 during their current run of five straight regulation setbacks.
For the fourth time in as many games, the Capitals spotted their opponent a multiple-goal lead. By the time the Caps got on the board midway through the third period, the goal halved New Jersey’s 2-0 lead and the tally proved to be all the offense that Washington could muster.
Playing without captain and league-leading scorer Alex Ovechkin for a second straight game, the Caps were limited to one or zero goals for the sixth time in their last seven games. Washington has scored a grand total of eight goals in its last seven games. Ovechkin has scored three of those goals and Jason Chimera – who netted the Caps’ lone goal on Friday against the Devils – also has three goals during that stretch.
Penalty trouble dogged the Capitals in New Jersey, as it has frequently of late.. The Caps have had more power plays than penalty-killing missions in just two of their last 12 games. They have not held a lead at any point in their last four games.
“We’ve got to get a lead and stay out of the box,” says Chimera. “We took some penalties again that hurt us and hurt momentum. When you’re in the box you can’t create momentum. And when you get down a goal, especially against a team like New Jersey who shuts it down pretty good [it’s even tougher]. In the neutral zone they’re pretty good and their team has been together and the guys know how to play the system. They shut it down and you’ve got to grind to get back into the game. When you get down you end up chasing them the whole night and you can’t do that.”
Michal Neuvirth stopped 28 of the 30 shots he faced in goal in Friday night’s game in New Jersey, but the loss dropped him to 3-5-1 on the season.
Washington has allowed just two goals in each of its last two losses, marking the first time the Caps have limited the opposition to two or fewer goals in consecutive games without collecting a point since Nov. 29-Dec. 1, 2011. The Caps dropped 2-1 contests to St. Louis and Pittsburgh, respectively, in the first two games of the Dale Hunter coaching administration in that pair of games.
After Neuvirth went for the Caps on Friday night in New Jersey, Braden Holtby will get the start in goal for Washington on Saturday in Montreal. Holtby has made three career starts at Bell Centre, where he is 3-0 with a shutout, a 1.00 GAA and a .963 save pct. Overall against the Canadiens, Holtby is 4-0 with a 1.23 GAA and a .957 save pct. in four career starts.
With just 29 games remaining on the docket, the Caps are in a standings free-fall. They’ve got to start picking up some points if they hope to remain viable in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. And scoring some goals is paramount.
“We should get desperate a little bit,” says Chimera. “It’s one of those things that you should come to the game and play with that desperation and throw everything at [the net], get a 50-shot night or a 55-shot night and hopefully two or three will go in. If desperation doesn’t set in, then we’re in trouble that’s for sure.”
Bell Centre has been a good spot for the Capitals of late. They have picked up at least a point in seven of their last eight visits to Montreal (7-0-1), outscoring the Habs by a combined total of 28-14 in the process.
Montreal was also in action on Friday night, taking on Atlantic Division rival Detroit in the Motor City. The Habs came away on the short end of a 4-1 defeat to the Red Wings, marking the first time all season that the Canadiens have lost three straight games in regulation. Montreal has been outscored by a combined total of 14-5 in its three consecutive losses. The Habs fell down 2-0 in Detroit before Brendan Gallagher’s 13th goal of the season made it a 2-1 game midway through the contest, but the Wings coasted from there.
Carey Price started in goal for the Canadiens on Friday in Detroit, so the Capitals are likely to see Peter Budaj on Saturday. Washington has faced Budaj twice this season; he started both games against the Capitals in November.
Budaj is 1-2-2 lifetime in six appearances (five starts) against the Capitals, posting a 2.56 GAA and a .901 save pct. along the way.
The Capitals and Canadiens met twice earlier this season, both of those meetings coming on consecutive Friday nights in late November and both taking place at Verizon Center. The Caps and Habs traded 3-2 victories in those games, with Montreal taking a 3-2 regulation decision from Washington on Nov. 22 and the Capitals winning in a shootout over the Canadiens exactly a week later.
Montreal is currently tied for third with archrival Toronto in the Atlantic Division standings. The Habs trail Tampa Bay and Boston – the top two teams in the Atlantic – by six points.