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With seven key players out, the Washington Capitals may not be able to hold onto their lead in the Southeast Division. Reigning league MVP Alex Ovechkin is doing his best to make sure that doesn't happen.
Coming off his best performance of the season, Ovechkin looks to help the Capitals win seven straight at home for the first time in eight years on Friday when they meet the Montreal Canadiens.
Washington (12-7-3) dropped the last three games of its five-game road trip, including Monday's 4-3 defeat to Minnesota in which it lost several players to injuries.
Alexander Semin (back), Mike Green (shoulder) and Sergei Fedorov (ankle) have been sidelined, and on Monday, Chris Clark (stress fracture of forearm), Jeff Schultz (broken finger), Boyd Gordon (back) and John Erskine (undisclosed) were all injured.
Those seven players sat out Wednesday's game against Atlanta, but they weren't needed as Ovechkin had his sixth career hat trick and added an assist to lead the Capitals to a 5-3 victory.
Washington has won six in a row at home and is 8-0-1 there this season. The Capitals haven't won seven consecutive home games since Nov. 17-Dec. 16, 2000.
"It was a great start for us, especially the hat trick and then the winning," said Ovechkin, who led the NHL with 65 goals and 112 points last season. "We lost three in a row, and we just had to come back to our building and win the game."
Ovechkin has 10 goals and 14 assists in 12 games this month after missing two contests while visiting his ailing grandfather in Russia. He has 21 points during a nine-game streak and is third in the NHL with 29.
"When he's on, it sure makes it difficult to stop," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Ovechkin was on in his last game against Montreal (12-5-4), scoring a career high-tying four times - including in overtime - and adding an assist in a 5-4 win Jan. 31. He has 16 points in 12 appearances versus the Canadiens.
Montreal avoided a third straight loss Wednesday with a 3-1 road victory over defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit. Utilizing a neutral zone trap, the Canadiens clogged up the Red Wings' high-powered offense, which came in averaging 3.75 goals per game.
They also held Detroit's league-best power-play unit (31.8 percent) to no goals in three opportunities.
"They're a team that likes to control the puck," Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said. "Just tried to play as tough as we can in the neutral zone and make them dump it in."
The Canadiens may want to employ the same strategy against Washington, which is averaging 3.36 goals a game - 3.78 at home.
The Capitals scored 12 times as these teams split four meetings in 2007-08. Montreal's Carey Price made just one start against Washington last season and allowed five goals - two to Ovechkin - in a 5-4 overtime loss on Jan. 5.
Price lost his shutout bid with 6:29 left Wednesday, when he held an opponent to two goals or fewer for the sixth straight time.
"It's tough, but two points is more important," Price said.