Seeking A Sixth –
The Caps conclude a quick two-game road trip on Monday night in Montreal when they face the Canadiens in the middle match of the three-game season’s series between the two teams. The Caps carry a five-game winning streak into the contest and will be seeking to match their season high winning run of six, previously achieved from Dec. 5-16.
During their streak, the Caps have won by 2-1 and 1-0 scores, as well as by 6-2, 6-5 and 5-0 scores. That 6-5 game was one in which Washington trailed 4-2 going into the third period against Toronto, but the Caps rallied in the third and pulled out an overtime victory over the Maple Leafs.
“I think that’s one of the things we’ve been trying to grow,” says Caps goaltender Braden Holtby, “Taking the game for what it is and where you can have success in it, based on how many goals are scored and if we’re behind or ahead, we have the same game plan.
“It showed against Toronto especially in the third period. We just came out and played and had that confidence to win. Every game is different; that’s the beauty of the sport. You just try to react as quick as you can.”
Interior Design –
When the Caps and Habs first met this season on Dec. 17 in Washington, the Capitals had a good night in terms of offensive zone time and puck possession. But the results weren’t favorable; Washington’s lone goal in a 2-1 loss came on Nicklas Backstrom’s two-man advantage goal in the second period. The Caps had difficulty getting to the middle of the ice and creating strong chances and second chances against superb Montreal netminder Carey Price.
Montreal held the Caps to just 21 shots on goal in that game and only five in the third period. For a span of 15 minutes and 22 seconds over the waning portion of the middle period and lion’s share of the third, Washington was held without a shot on goal altogether.
The Caps even had a few odd-man rushes in that game, but failed to generate shots on goal in those situations as well. In Monday’s rematch, the Caps will need to be better in those areas.
“We’ve just got to play like we’ve been doing the last few games,” says Caps winger Andre Burakovsky. “The last game [in Ottawa] wasn’t really pretty for us, but I think we’ve just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing.
“All four lines have been skating really well and we’ve been winning battles. To win battles, you just need a mindset. You can be the smallest guy on the ice and win against the biggest guy; it’s just a mindset. In every game, we’ve been coming in with a really good mindset, that we’re going to win every battle and we’re going to win every situation for each other out there. We’ve just got to keep playing like that, and if we do, we’re going to keep winning.”
Washington comes into Monday’s game off a similar contest in which it was able to generate only 20 shots on net in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Ottawa, the lowest single-game shot total for the Caps this season.
“I think we’ve got to force ourselves in there,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz, who will coach in his 1,400
career NHL game tonight. “We had real good puck possession at times, but we had opportunities where we could have forced ourselves into the interior. We were a little bit too light and were kept to the outside more than you wanted to. We didn’t make it difficult enough against Carey. Carey is a tremendous goaltender; you’ve got to make it tough on him. And even when you do make it tough on him, you may come up empty.
“You’ve got to be real strong offensively and you’ve got to create some stuff. To me, our power play is going to have to get us a goal tonight, and then we’ll have to do something at five-on-five. Montreal has done a really great job with all the injuries they’ve had. They’ve committed to a real good team game. They’re 4-0-1 in their last five, and they’ve been on the road. They’ve done a really good job. We know coming back to the Bell Centre, they’re always real good here.”
Rocket Man –
Caps captain and six-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin comes into Monday’s game with 543 career NHL goals, one behind legendary Montreal winger Maurice “Rocket” Richard, who finished his illustrious career with the Canadiens with 544 career goals in 1960.
Now one goal shy of matching Richard’s career total, Ovechkin has a chance to do so here on Monday at Bell Center, where he has totaled 10 goals and 21 points in 19 career games.
So why not do it in the city where Richard wowed the locals for so long, so many years ago?
“It means a lot,” says Ovechkin. “He was a tremendous player and a legend. To be in his company, it’s a privilege and a huge honor.”
When Richard hung up his skates all those years ago, he was the league’s all-time leading goal scorer. Nearly six decades later, Richard now ranks 29
on the league’s all-time goals scored list. Ovechkin doesn’t spend much time looking at that list to see where he stands and who is ahead of him.
“Not yet,” he says. “I still have an opportunity to get better, so when I’m going to be a little bit older, I will.”
Twin Homecomings? –
Caps center Lars Eller spent six seasons with the Canadiens before the offseason swap that sent him to Washington. Tonight, Eller returns to Bell Centre to play against his former team for the second time, but for the first time in Montreal.
“I miss playing games at the Bell Centre and that hockey atmosphere that comes with playing games here, especially playoff games,” says Eller. “Those are memories that stick with you.”
Eller skated in 435 regular season and 37 playoff games with the Canadiens during his time in Montreal.
“I really loved being here and I have a lot of good memories of playoffs and building bonds with players. I still have friends in this city. But I also love being in Washington.”
And that said, he’d love nothing more than to take two points away from the Canadiens here tonight.
“I think every player who has been traded somewhere wants to beat your old team,” says Eller. “I think that’s pretty natural. Whomever you ask about that, playing against familiar faces, they’re going to want to win. That’s pretty much it.”
Before the Caps left to come on their current road trip, they recalled winger Liam O’Brien from AHL Hershey. O’Brien was recalled so the Caps would have an extra forward for the trip, and he was a healthy scratch for Saturday’s game in Ottawa.
But Washington wingers T.J. Oshie (upper body) and Tom Wilson (lower body) both suffered injuries against the Sens on Saturday. Wilson says he will play tonight against Montreal, while the Caps say Oshie will not play. That might appear to leave the window open for O’Brien to get into an NHL lineup for the first time in more than two years, but the Caps also recalled Paul Carey from Hershey this morning as a precautionary measure.
Either O’Brien or Carey will step into the Caps’ lineup against the Habs. If it turns out to be O’Brien, it will be a special night for the 22-year-old native of Halifax, who spent some time here in Montreal as he was growing up.
“I lived in Montreal,” says O’Brien. “I lived in the west island for four or five years. I actually started playing hockey in Montreal. So I played that little Timbits game at the Bell Centre before. If I do get the opportunity to play here, it will be awesome.”
O’Brien was the story in Caps training camp back in the fall of 2014 when he cracked the team’s opening night roster as an undrafted, 20-year-old QMJHL player in his first season as a pro. O’Brien totaled a goal and two points in 13 games with Washington in the early stages of that 2016-17 season, but he’s been in Hershey ever since.
With five goals and 18 points in 28 games with the Bears this season, O’Brien has already exceeded his point totals from each of his first two pro seasons with Hershey.
“I think the biggest thing is just development,” says O’Brien. “They’ve done a really good job with me in Hershey. They’ve helped me a ton, they’ve given me the opportunity, and I just think my ability to play has gotten a lot better. My skills set, my skating, my edges, handling the puck and making plays have all improved. I’ve learned a lot as well. My [offensive] zone play and small area stuff, all of that has developed and I think that’s what has made the biggest difference for me.”
In The Nets –
Just after the Caps completed their optional morning skate at Bell Centre on Monday morning, the NHL announced that Holtby was the league’s third star for the week ending Jan. 8. Holtby was 2-0-0 with a pair of shutouts, a 1.29 GAA and a .955 save pct. in three starts last week. He comes into tonight’s game in Montreal on the heels of the first consecutive shutouts of his NHL career.
On the season, Holtby is 18-8-4 with five shutouts, a 1.93 GAA and a .931 save pct. He has permitted two or fewer goals in nine if his last 11 starts and has authored four shutouts during that span. In his last 14 starts, Holtby is 8-2-3 with four shutouts, a 1.55 GAA and a .945 save pct.
Holtby has always had good success at the Bell Centre, going 6-0-1 with two shutouts, a 1.40 GAA and a .948 save pct. in seven career starts at the Montreal barn. Lifetime against the Habs, Holtby is 8-1-2 with a 1.64 GAA and a .942 save pct.
Price will be in goal for Montreal on Monday. He is 20-5-4 with a pair of shutouts, a 2.06 GAA and a .930 save pct. on the season. Lifetime against Washington, Price is 6-9-4 with a shutout, a 2.97 GAA and a .900 save pct.
All Lined Up –
Washington's Monday moring skate was optional, so there's no way of knowing for sure who the Caps will lineup for tonight's game until pregame warmups. Here’s our best guess at how we expect the Capitals and the Canadiens to look on Monday night when the two teams take the ice at Bell Centre:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 10-Connolly
90-Johansson, 92-Kuznetsov, 14-Williams
26-Winnik, 20-Eller, 65-Burakovsky
87-O’Brien, 83-Beagle, 43-Wilson
77-Oshie (upper body)
67-Pacioretty, 24-Danault, 47-Radulov
62-Lehkonen, 14-Plekanec, 42-Andrighetto
41-Byron, 17-Mitchell, 32-Flynn
44-Farnham, 34-McCarron, 38-Scherbak
65-Shaw (concussion-like symptoms)
79-Markov (lower body)