March 15 vs. Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (40-20-10)
Montreal Canadiens (38-24-7)
With 70 games already in the books in the 2010-11 regular season, there is still one Eastern Conference barn the Caps have not visited this season. That changes on Tuesday when Washington opens up a stretch of six straight road games against the Canadiens in Montreal. The Caps will head out for the first of those six games this week. They’ll return home for the weekend before embarking on the back half of the half dozen road contests.
Tuesday marks the Caps’ first visit to Montreal since Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between the Caps and Habs last April 26.
Coming off a successful (3-0) three-game homestand, the Capitals have now won eight straight games. That’s their longest winning run in 13 months, since they forged a 14-game winning streak last winter, the longest in franchise history. Washington’s current eight-game winning streak is the team’s second longest in 22 years, since an eight-game spree from March 9-26, 1989.
Washington will be seeking a sixth straight road win when it visits Montreal on Tuesday. If the Caps are successful, they’ll match the franchise record of six straight road victories set in 1983-84. The ’83-84 Caps won their last six road games of the year from Feb. 26-April 1, 1984.
The first of those six successive road wins in 1984 was the final game of a season-long, seven-game road trip. The next five road wins were each stand-alone, one-game trips that were interspersed with 11 home games down the stretch for the Caps that season.
Since that six-game road winning streak to close out the 1983-84 campaign, the Capitals have now had seven five-game winning streaks on the road. They’ve had a five-game road winning streak now for three straight seasons, doing so for the first time in franchise history.
With 18 road wins this season and eight road games remaining on the slate, the Caps are looking to hit the 20-win mark on the road for the fourth straight season. That’s another feat that has never previously been accomplished in the franchise’s 36-season history.
When the Caps set out on a five-game trip last month, their status in the standings was a bit more precarious. Capitals are a much more confident bunch as it hits the road this time around. And why not? The Caps sport a 12-4-3 record in their last 19 road games.
“I think we’re in a safer position,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “Before we went on that last road trip, we were looking at – if we didn’t have a successful road trip – fighting for our lives for a playoff spot. Now, we haven’t guaranteed anything. But since then, we’ve got 90 points now. So we’re at least in the hunt for thinking that we’re going to make the playoffs and looking for more. So it’s a different mindset.”
With a dozen games left in the regular season, the Caps have an eye toward the standings in the Eastern Conference and an eye towards getting as healthy as possible heading into the playoffs. Going into Monday night’s NHL activity, the Caps hold a five-point lead over Tampa Bay in the Southeast Division standings. The Lightning has one game in hand. The Caps trail front-running Philadelphia by a single point in the Eastern Conference standings, but the Flyers have two games in hand.
Although it’s tempting to think of overtaking Philly – the Caps play the Flyers in Philadelphia next week – Boudreau isn’t thinking about that right now.
“I don’t want to think about it,” he declares. “It’s a nice feather in your cap and we got a nice little trophy for winning the Presidents’ [Trophy] last year, but in the end I don’t care if we’re eighth or first. I’ve got to believe the eight [seed] can beat the one [seed]. It’s happened, I think. As long as we’re in and we get a chance to go to that party, I think we’ll give somebody a tough go.”
Washington is still playing without several key performers. Defensemen Mike Green and Tom Poti, goaltender Semyon Varlamov and center Nicklas Backstrom have all missed at least the last three games. With the Capitals rolling along in their absence, there is less pressure to get those players back in the lineup and the team can allow them to mend properly and get ready for the postseason.
Poti, Varlamov and Backstrom are all traveling with the team on its tour of Montreal, Detroit and New Jersey this week.
The Capitals concluded their three-game homestand sweep with a 4-3 overtime victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon. That victory was the Caps’ seventh one-goal victory during the life of the team’s current eight-game winning streak. Four of those triumphs have come in overtime or the shootout.
Washington is now 22-7-10 in one-goal games this season.
“I think they’re confident,” says Boudreau of his team’s performance in one-goal games. They feel comfortable that if it’s a one-goal lead, we can defend it. I think [Sunday’s win over Chicago is] the first game we’ve given up three goals in since the [7-0 loss in the] Rangers game [on Feb. 25] for sure, but in a long time if you take that game out of the equation. They feel that they are going to score. Even though we haven’t scored a lot of goals this year, they feel that they can score when push comes to shove.”
Over their last 38 games, the Caps have surrendered just 76 goals for an average of precisely two per game. Washington is 22-9-7 during that span.
Montreal comes into Tuesday’s game in second place in the Northeast Division standings, just two points behind Boston. The Habs are seven points behind Washington.
The Canadiens boast one of the best home ice records in the league at 21-8-6 on the season. The Habs are also a strong special teams club; they rank seventh in the NHL in both power play prowess (19.9%) and penalty-killing effectiveness.
Having won six of their last seven games, Montreal is nearly as hot as the Capitals are. The Habs have outscored their foes by a combined 23-11 in their last seven games. The Canadiens surrendered a total of just seven goals in their six victories during that stretch.
Montreal is 6-for-20 (30%) on the power play and its penalty killing outfit is 27-for-28 (96.4%) in the team’s last seven games.
Canadiens goaltender Carey Price is tied for the league lead with 33 wins and 61 games played, and he leads all NHL goaltenders with 3,620 minutes played. Price is second in the league with eight shutouts, fourth with a .924 save pct. and sixth with a .924 save pct. He is likely to garner some serious Vezina Trophy consideration when the balloting for that award takes place in less than a month.
In the month of March, Price is 5-1 with two shutouts, a 1.17 GAA and a .965 save pct. in six starts.