January 18 vs. Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre
Time: 7:30 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m., Two-Man Advantage at 3 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 3 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com.
Washington Capitals (24-18-2)
Montreal Canadiens (17-20-8)
The Capitals finish up their first set of back-to-back contests of calendar 2012 on Wednesday night in Montreal when they meet the Canadiens for the first time this season. The game against the Habs starts a three-game tour for the Caps, their last road journey before the NHL’s All-Star break.
Washington had a chance to take a four-game winning streak on the road to Montreal, but it laid an egg on home ice against the New York Islanders on Tuesday. New York scored once in each period – tallying twice on the power play – to hand Washington its first whitewash setback of the season, 3-0. The defeat ended a three-game winning streak and a seven-game winning run on home ice.
“I’m sure we’re going to rehash this game [Wednesday] morning on video; we’ll probably see quite a bit of it,” says Caps winger Matt Hendricks. “It is nice to be able to go on the road in Montreal and play a team that we need to beat.”
The Caps could muster only 17 shots on net and only 13 of those came at even strength. In their last two games, the Capitals have totaled just 26 even-strength shots on goal.
“We had opportunities to shoot the puck; we didn’t shoot the puck,” says Hendricks. “We tried to make cute plays and passes and we weren’t putting pucks in areas where we could go get them. I feel bad for [goaltender Tomas Vokoun]. He had to make a lot of stops tonight, he had a lot of pucks at him. We need to have a better performance [Wednesday].”
Now, the Caps must take to the road where they will play six of their next seven games. Thus far this season, the road has been less than kind to the Capitals. Washington is 7-12-1 away from the District in 2011-12, and the Caps are 3-5-1 in nine road games since Dale Hunter took over behind the bench on Nov. 28.
““It’s going to be a new day and a new game for us,” says Caps winger Joel Ward. “We are going to be up for the challenge, for sure. We are just excited to put this one away, obviously, and move on. This is going to be a big character road trip for the team here.”
For each of the four games in their just completed homestand, the Caps got to face a team that had played a home game the night before and was ostensibly fatigued. They won each of the first three games by a single goal before falling to the Islanders on Tuesday.
“This is a good opportunity for us,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “Big game [Wednesday] and a couple of road games that we need to win to get our confidence up on the road. You couldn’t ask for a better situation than to get right back at it. And Montreal seems to be a building that we come out with a lot of energy, so hopefully that will be the case.”
Now, the shoe is on the other foot. The Caps must head to Montreal to play the second of back-to-backs after a home loss against a rested Canadiens team.
“It’s a chance to get right back at it,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “It’s the same thing [the Islanders] went through. They played yesterday and lost and came in here a hungry team. For us, we get on the plane tonight and travel there and get back at it tomorrow.”
Deposed Caps coach Bruce Boudreau and Hunter have each been at the helm for 22 games thus far this season. Each has an identical 12-9-1 record.
Under Boudreau, the Caps scored 69 goals (3.14 per game) and allowed 72 (3.27 per game). They were 14-for-86 on the power play (16.3%) and were 64-for-80 (80%) on the penalty kill.
With Hunter at the reins, the Caps have scored 55 goals (2.5 per game) and allowed 53 (2.41 per game). They are 14-for-59 (23.7%) on the power play and 62-for-75 (82.7%) on the penalty kill.
The Capitals enter Wednesday’s game in eighth place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings, 12 points south of the top of the conference and 10 points north of the bottom. Washington is one point behind Florida for the top spot in the Southeast Division and eight points ahead of the 12th place Canadiens.
Montreal has been idle since Sunday when it posted a 4-1 home ice victory over the New York Rangers. That victory ended a three-game skid (0-2-1) for the Habs.
The Canadiens have had a difficult season to date; they’ve been mired in the lower reaches of the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings for most of the season. The Canadiens fired an assistant coach (Perry Pearn) in November, they fired their head coach (Jacques Martin) in December and they traded their second-leading scorer from last season (Mike Cammalleri) in January.
Cammalleri was sent to Calgary in exchange for forward Rene Bourque, whose flagrant elbow to the head of Caps center Nicklas Backstrom has sidelined the pivot since. Bourque was issued a five-game suspension for his action.
Montreal’s highest-paid player is Scott Gomez, whose annual salary cap hit is upwards of $7.3 million through the 2013-14 season. Gomez missed the better part of two months with a groin injury and just returned to the lineup last weekend. He has five points (all assists) in 15 games this season.
The Habs are 20th in the NHL with an average of 2.56 goals scored per game and they’re 11th in the circuit with an average of 2.60 goals against per game.
Montreal’s power play is dead last in the league with a 12.8% success rate, but the Canadiens have excelled on the other side of the special teams ledger. The Habs have killed off 89.3% of their opponents’ power play chances, the second-best rate in the circuit.