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April 9 vs. Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: 1500AM WFED
Washington Capitals (20-17-2)
Montreal Canadiens (25-8-5)
Washington heads back out onto the road on Tuesday for the first of its two visits to Montreal to take on the Canadiens. The Caps will be seeking to extend their streak of games with points on the road, currently at seven (6-0-1). The last time the Caps had a longer success streak away from Verizon Center was when they finished up the 2009-10 season with a 6-0-3 mark in their final nine road contests.
In addition to their recent run of road success, the Capitals have won four straight games overall for the first time this season.
The Caps haven’t seen the Canadiens since the third game of the season on Jan. 24 when they absorbed a 4-1 setback at the hands of the Habs in the District. That loss dropped the Caps to 0-3 on the young season. Washington was still struggling to find its way back then, but the Caps are firmly on the right path now.
Washington is 10-3-1 in its last 14 games, and it has made up a significant deficit in the Southeast Division standings to take a two-point lead over the Winnipeg Jets. The Capitals have nine games remaining, and Winnipeg has eight. The two teams face one another for the final time this season on April 23 at Verizon Center.
Since starting the season with a 2-8-1 mark in its first 11 games under first-year head coach Adam Oates, the Capitals are 18-9-1 in 28 games since. A team maintaining that pace of point collection over a full 82-game NHL slate would finish the campaign with 108 points.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin and the team’s other top players have helped to spearhead the team’s scorching stretch run. On Monday, Ovechkin was named the NHL’s No. 1 star for the second time in the last three weeks. He had seven goals and nine points in four games last week.
Ovechkin has 20 goals and 33 points in his last 23 games. Linemate Nicklas Backstrom has 23 assists and 28 points over that same span of 23 games. Caps defenseman Mike Green has six goals and eight points in his last 10 games since returning from a lower body injury that sidelined him for the better part of a month. Despite missing 13 games this season, Green leads all NHL blueliners with seven even-strength goals.
Caps goalie Braden Holtby has had two streaks of 11 straight starts this season. His most recent run of 11 starts in succession was broken up on Sunday night when Michal Neuvirth made 28 saves to author an impressive 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Holtby has started 24 of Washington’s last 28 games. During that span, he is 16-7-1 with four shutouts, a 2.32 GAA and a .926 save pct. He is expected to start on Tuesday in Montreal, and if he does, it will mark the fifth time this season he has returned to the pipes after getting respite of a game or more.
In his previous four starts that immediately followed those rest periods, Holtby went 3-1 with a shutout, a 2.24 GAA and a .925 save pct.
The Capitals have blanked the Canadiens in each of their last three visits to Montreal, and they’ve done so with three different netminders. Washington’s whitewash mastery over the Habs at Bell Centre extends back to the second period of a March 15, 2011 game there. Montreal’s Andrei Kostitsyn scored against Holtby at 3:28 of the second period in that game, the final Canadiens goal in a 4-2 Capitals victory.
Eleven days later, Holtby pitched a 2-0 shutout against the Canadiens in Montreal. On Jan. 18, 2012, Michal Neuvirth blanked the Canadiens at Bell Centre and Tomas Vokoun did so just over two weeks later on Feb. 4, 2012.
When Washington takes to the ice for Tuesday night’s game against the Canadiens, it will do so with a Bell Centre shutout streak of 216:32 on the line.
The Caps have shutout the Canadiens 14 times over the years, with nine of those whitewashes coming in Montreal. Eight of the nine have come at Bell Centre with six different goaltenders recording them.
Montreal has gone as many as two straight games without collecting at least a point only once this season. The Habs’ only consecutive regulation losses of 2012-13 came March 23-26 against Buffalo and Pittsburgh, respectively.
Since that slight hiccup, the Habs are 5-1-0 in their last six games. Seeking their first division title since 2007-08, the Canadiens lead Boston by three points for the top spot in the NHL’s Northeast Division. Montreal has 10 games remaining and Boston 11, but the two teams won’t face one another again during the regular season.
Despite missing six games early in the season because of a contract holdout, Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban leads the Habs in scoring with 32 points (10 goals, 22 assists). Subban also leads all NHL blueliners in goals and in scoring.
Currently in the midst of the longest Stanley Cup drought in their storied and glorious history, the Habs have bounced back in a big way after missing the playoffs last season. Montreal’s first-year general manager Marc Bergevin retooled the team’s roster smartly, and he hired Michel Therrien to run the Canadiens’ bench.
Therrien is the fifth Habs coach to serve two non-consecutive terms behind the bench for Montreal. He follows Newsy Lalonde, Leo Dandurand, Claude “Muddy” Ruel and Bob Gainey in that distinction.
The Canadiens’ earned their most recent Stanley Cup title 20 years ago this spring when they vanquished Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in the Cup final.
Montreal ranks fourth in the NHL this season with an average of 3.08 goals per game. The Habs have surrendered just 2.34 goals per game for the fifth best mark in the circuit. The Canadiens’ 22.4% power play success rate is sixth best in the league.
The Habs got bad news on Monday when they leaarned that defenseman Alexei Emelin would be lost for the remainder of the season with a knee injury sustained on Saturday against Boston. Emelin was fourth among current Habs defenders in average ice time per game and was one of the team’s top four blueliners in penalty killing situations.