April 20 vs. Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: 106.7 The Fan/Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (24-18-2)
Montreal Canadiens (27-12-5)
Washington reaches the end of its road schedule for the 2012-13 season on Saturday night when it faces the Canadiens in Montreal in a Hockey Night in Canada match-up.
The Caps are coming in on the heels of a 3-1 loss to the Senators in Ottawa on Thursday night, a setback that halted Washington’s winning streak at eight games and also quelled the Caps’ streak of road games with at least a point at eight (7-0-1).
The Caps got a healthy taste of why Ottawa is so strong on home ice; the Sens ran their record at Scotiabank Place to 15-3-3 with the win over the Caps. Ottawa was stifling in the neutral zone, strong on pucks and it used its speed to pressure the Caps in their own end. Washington was unable to break out of its zone cleanly, and the Caps too frequently flipped pucks to space instead of making plays because they didn’t have the time and space needed to make those plays.
“First of all, I think they’re very disciplined and they’re well coached,” says Caps forward Matt Hendricks of the Senators. “You can tell that right away. No matter who is on the ice for them, they run their routes well and they run their system very well. They made it difficult on us. We ended up flipping pucks, at times when usually we can make a play or our defensemen can make a play, that wasn’t there tonight.
“We were flipping pucks. Subsequently the forwards had to stop moving our feet, we didn’t have the speed that would carry us in on the forecheck. They just frustrated us, gave us a little bit of a thorn in our side where we couldn’t get our wheels going. We just keep spinning or stopping and starting, and they were able to transition on us because of it.”
The Caps got out of synch early, taking a pair of minor penalties in the first 6:22 of the game that kept them from rolling four lines and getting everyone involved early.
“I think it’s all about us,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin of Thursday’s loss. “We took two penalties right away in the first period and we weren’t in the game right away. They didn’t do anything special against us; we just didn’t play our way. We made lots of mistakes in our zone. We turned over pucks lots of times and we missed pucks in the neutral zone.
Ottawa had 32 shot attempts to just seven for the Caps early in the second period, but Washington was never down more than a goal until Kyle Turris’ empty-netter late in the contest.
“[Friday] morning we watched the video,” says Ovechkin, “and we still had plenty of chances to score goals. We didn’t play well and it was still 2-1. We still had a chance to tie the game and get a point. It’s tough when you lose a game like that but we just have to concentrate in different ways.”
It’s been quite a while since the Caps didn’t play well and weren’t in a game from virtually the start. The March 16 game at Boston is probably the most recent example of that. On Thursday, they didn’t play well but they were in the game throughout.
Now the Capitals hope to use that loss as a wake-up call over the final four games of the season. They haven’t sewn up anything in the way of a postseason berth, and while they still control their own destiny, Winnipeg does as well. The Caps hold a two-point lead over the Jets in the chase for the Southeast Division crown.
“We haven’t clinched a playoff spot here,” says Caps forward Jay Beagle. “We’re still battling for our lives and for the postseason. Yeah, it was one game. But it is a wakeup call. We definitely have to be better and everyone knows it. It’s one of those things where you’ve got to get right back at it. And it started [Friday] with a good, hard practice. It was quick and hard but it was high-tempo. That’s what it starts with, and we’ll go from there.”
Caps center Nicklas Backstrom was hit on the arm with a Mike Green slapshot late in Thursday’s game and he did not return. Backstrom did participate in Friday’s practice at Bell Centre, and he seemed none the worse for wear. He is expected to be in the lineup for Saturday’s tilt against the Habs.
Washington is now 11-10-2 on the road for this season, so Saturday’s game against will determine whether the Caps conclude the campaign with a road points percentage of .500 or better.
The Caps downed the Habs early last week, taking a 3-2 decision from the Canadiens at Bell Centre on March 9. Including that contest, Montreal is 2-4-0 in its last six games.
Most recently, the Canadiens wrested a 3-2 home ice game from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, grabbing the two points when Brian Gionta scored the game-winner in the final minute of regulation. In each of its three games immediately prior to Thursday, Montreal allowed five or more goals and the goaltender who started the game did not finish it.
Carey Price stopped 32 of the 34 shots he faced against the Lightning and the Habs hope that game puts him back on the beam.
Montreal appears to be getting a bit healthier down the stretch, too. Forward Colby Armstrong and defenseman Raphael Diaz are getting close to returning to the lineup, and both could play as soon as Saturday night against Washington.
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