March 26 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 (43-22-10)
Montreal Canadiens (40-28-7)
Washington’s lengthy three-legged, six-game 13-day road journey comes to an end on Saturday night in the same city in which it started: Montreal. The Caps conclude their longest road spell of the season with a Hockey Night in Canada match-up against the Canadiens at Bell Centre.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, winner of five straight NHL starts and seven of his last eight, started and won when the trip started in Montreal on March 15. Re-assigned to the AHL Hershey Bears on March 19, Holtby seems likely to be back with the Caps and in net for Saturday’s game against the Canadiens.
Originally, Semyon Varlamov was slated to start Saturday night’s game in goal for the Capitals. But when Michal Neuvirth fell ill in Friday in Ottawa, Varlamov was pressed into service a night early, and he ended up on the short end of a 2-0 shutout at the hands of the Senators and goaltender Craig Anderson.
Playing a last-place Ottawa team that had played a game that went to the shootout on the road the night before, the Caps didn’t do enough to wear down what should have been a weary Senators squad.
“That was the game plan,” says Boudreau, “to get [the puck] deep and be physical on their [defense] and hopefully we’d wear them down. I didn’t think we did too much in wearing down. I didn’t see the final hits, but I’ll bet you we didn’t have more than 15.”
The start against the Sens was Varlamov’s first game action in 33 days, and it’s the fourth time in the last 16 months that he has missed a month or more of action. It seems unlikely that the Caps would want to force the issue by having him start games on consecutive nights after a layoff of nearly five weeks.
This is Varlamov’s third season in the NHL. Only once before has he ever started games on consecutive nights at this level and that was in the playoffs more than 22 months ago, on May 8-9, 2009 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Varlamov played well in his return start on Friday night in Ottawa, making 21 saves on the 23 shots he faced. But as has been the case so often of late, he got little in the way of offensive support. The Caps have scored a total of 30 goals in support – an average of just 1.58 per game – of Varlamov in those 19 games.
Holtby was slated to start for Hershey on Friday night in Adirondack but was a late scratch, probably so that he could make the trip to meet the Capitals in Montreal.
The loss in Ottawa left Washington’s record at 3-2 for the trip. Winners of 11 of their last 13 games, the Capitals are 10-2 in the month of March.
The Habs should be coming in hungry. They’ve been blanked in each of their last two games, including an embarrassing 7-0 whitewashing at the hands of Northeast Division rival Boston on Thursday, a loss that all but ended the Habs’ hopes of overtaking the Bruins for the Northeast title.
“They’re going probably be pretty ticked off and pretty motivated,” notes Boudreau of the Habs. “So we better be ready.”
On the plus side, the Habs are getting healthier. Injured vets Tomas Plekanec, Jeff Halpern and Brent Sopel returned to the lineup for the game in Boston. One other plus, goaltender Carey Price was able to take the last few minutes off in the Boston game. He surrendered the game’s first five goals before surrendering the net to back-up Alex Auld in the third period. Price leads the NHL with 3,867 minutes played in goal this season.
Second in the Northeast Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference, the Habs are on the verge of nailing down a fourth straight postseason appearance and their sixth in the last seven seasons.
After pummeling the Minnesota Wild by an 8-1 count on the road last Sunday, the Canadiens have run dry since. The Habs were on the short end of a 2-0 home ice decision to division rival Buffalo on Tuesday before heading to Beantown for Thursday’s debacle.
Montreal’s special teams play has been slipping of late. The Habs are 2-for-27 (7.4%) on the power play in their last eight games, and they’ve surrendered at least one power play goal in five of their last six contests. The Canadiens have killed 22 of 29 (75.8%) opposition power plays in those last half dozen games.
Washington has won two of its three games with the Canadiens this season, and Montreal’s lone win came in a 3-2 shootout win over the Capitals in the District on Feb. 1.