January 5 vs. Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Plus (Find CSN+) Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. and Two-Man Advantage Pre-Game Show at 6:15 p.m., both on washingtoncaps.com
Montreal Canadiens (21-20-3)
Washington Capitals (24-11-6)
The Capitals host the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday in the first home game of calendar 2010 and the first game of the second half of the 2009-10 regular season.
Washington rolled up 54 first-half points to put it squarely on the pace set by last season’s franchise-record 108-point team. But the Caps head into the season’s second half in the midst of their first three-game losing streak and the team’s first such streak in 10 months.
The last time the Caps dropped as many as four straight was a five-game skid in mid-November, 2007. That losing run led to the hiring or Bruce Boudreau as the team’s head coach and it came to an end in his first game behind the bench.
Washington just returned from a two-game, West Coast road trip that resulted in losses to the Sharks and Kings. Saturday’s 2-1 loss in Los Angeles showed better effort and results than the previous two setbacks. The Caps did not allow an even-strength goal to the Kings after surrendering a combined total of 10 even-strength strikes in their previous two games.
Los Angeles managed just nine even-strength shots during the entire game, but the Kings scored a power play goal and got the game-winner while shorthanded.
“We gave them seven shots in the last two periods,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “We can’t get any better than that as far as that goes. I thought they came out and they threw everything at us and it was only 1-0 [after the first] and thought that was good. I didn’t think with them playing basically three games in three and a half days or four days that they’d have much in the last two periods, and I thought their goaltender [Jonathan Quick] was the only one kept them in the game. And 5-on-5, I thought we were very good.”
Washington earned a two-man advantage for the sixth straight game in the third period against L.A., getting a glorious chance to tie it up. But the Caps made too many passes and not enough shots, squandering a chance to stop the skid.
“It’s not drawn up like that,” admits Boudreau. “The difficult thing when you’re playing the game is sometimes hockey is so fast that you see an opening. And you make that [play] instead of the play that you were supposed to. You don’t follow the game plan. Our game plan was for shots. But evidently on the last four [two-man advantage] chances that we’ve had, we haven’t scored.”
Washington spent a good bit of its lengthy (more than 60 minutes) practice on Monday working on special teams play. The Caps are 1-for-6 in a total of 5:46 with a two-man advantage in their last half-dozen games. For the season, the Caps are 4-for-18 in 18:25 worth of two-man time while Washington's opponents are 2-for-6 in just 4:29.
“I think you get sometimes a little carried away that we scored two goals in 5-on-3s with Alex [Ovechkin] giving Nicky [Backstrom] the slam dunk pass and saying, ‘Okay, that’s going to work all the time,’” observes Boudreau. “Well every team has video. And every team watches it and says, ‘Okay, we’re going to take that away.’ So they take that away, and we’ve got to find something else. Obviously, that’s what we were working on at the end of practice. So hopefully we’ll do better next time.”
TWO-MAN ADVANTAGES, LAST SIX GAMES
1:51 vs. Edmonton on Dec. 19
0:26 vs. Buffalo on Dec. 23 (advantage was 0:51, Caps scored at 0:26)
1:00 vs. New Jersey on Dec. 26
0:47 vs. Carolina on Dec. 28
0:49 vs. San Jose on Dec. 30
0:53 vs. Los Angeles on Jan. 2
Washington hoped to have goaltender Semyon Varlamov back in action this week. Varlamov, already sidelined for nearly a month with a lower-body injury, tweaked a lower-body injury during a Sunday rehab start with AHL Hershey. Varlamov played the entire game with the Bears, making 28 saves in a 4-1 Hershey win over Adirondack, but was injured in the process. He is expected to miss an additional week or two.
“Varly, Varly, Varly,” laments Boudreau. “He tweaked an old injury [Sunday] night. So he’s been put back a little bit. We were hoping that after his Hershey game he’d be able to come back in here and play; that’s not the case. He’s at least a week away.”
Varlamov’s last start for Washington was a 3-0 whitewash of the Lightning in Tampa on Dec. 7. He also finished that game despite suffering an injury during the contest. Since Varlamov landed on injured reserve, the Capitals are 5-6. The tandem of Jose Thoedore and rookie Michal Neuvirth has combined for a 3.01 GAA and an .890 save pct. in those 11 games.
While Varlamov is 12-1-2 this season and 16-1-3 during his NHL career, the Capitals are just 12-10-4 in games in which Varlamov has not had a decision in 2009-10. The rookie Russian netminder is 7-0-2 with a 1.53 GAA and a .945 save pct. in his last nine starts.
There was some good news on the injury front. Defenseman Brian Pothier, out for the last 10 games with a rib injury participated in Monday’s practice and Boudreau hopes the smooth-skating blueliner can return to the lineup this week.
“It’s nice to compete,” says Pothier. “I’m real close. It’s just a matter of getting hit and taking hard shots and getting in game action.”
Watching from the stands at home and on television when his teammates are on the road has given Pothier some perspective on what the Caps need to do to get back in the win column.
“I think for us it’s doing the little things,” declares Pothier. “We’re so skilled as a group that we have a tendency to start playing a little bit of pond hockey and being perimeter players. When we’re creating a lot of traffic, and really being aggressive and doing little things like dumping the puck and not turning the puck over and making it really hard for opposing goalies, that’s when we’re really, really effective.”
Montreal currently stands fourth in the tightly packed Northeast Division standings and it ranks seventh in the Eastern Conference. The Habs hit town on the heels of a 1-0 home ice loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday afternoon. Montreal netminder Carey Price made 29 stops in a losing effort in that game.
The loss to Buffalo followed a seven-game Montreal road trip that was wrapped around the NHL’s holiday break. The Canadiens went 6-1 on the road trip to push themselves back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Price has started two of the last three Montreal games, allowing a single goal in each. But Jaroslav Halak started six of the seven contests on the road trip.
For the season, Halak is 11-6 with a 2.64 GAA and a .922 save pct. while Price is 10-14-3 with a 2.61 GAA and a .916 save pct.
During the course of that seven-game road trip, the Canadiens channeled their mid-1950s predecessors, going 11-for-22 (50%) with the man advantage.