TV: NHLN-US (HD); RDS, TSN, CSN-MA
LAST 10: Montreal 5-4-1; Washington 3-6-1
Season Series: The Capitals have won both meetings this season by the same score -- 3-0. They've shut the Canadiens out in three straight meetings and four of the past six (Washington is 5-0-1 in those games), while using three different goaltenders.
Big Story: The Capitals return home after a disastrous road trip, but would be just one point out of a playoff spot with a win against the last-place Canadiens.
Canadiens: After the last meeting between the two teams on Feb. 4, the Canadiens went on 5-1-1 run, providing the slimmest margin of hope that a surge toward the fringe of playoff contention was possible. Then came back-to-back losses at home to New Jersey and Dallas by a combined margin of 6-1 and the Habs woke up Friday morning in 15th place in the Eastern Conference and 28th in the NHL.
Had they defeated the Devils and Stars, the Canadiens would be one point behind the Capitals and four shy of a playoff berth. Instead, they have seven teams to pass to reach the top eight and sportsclubstats.com has their chances of making the playoffs at 4.6 percent.
Capitals: No game in late February is a "must win," but this one might be as close as it gets for Washington. The Capitals have lost three straight and five of six. Their No. 1 goaltender has been pulled in two straight contests. They scored four goals during a four-game road trip, and two of them came in Ottawa when they were already down 4-0.
They are frustrated, and multiple players expressed issues with coach Dale Hunter through the media or their agent in less than 24 hours. The Caps might be without their two best players for a second straight game. Add it all up, and the Capitals are teetering on the edge of complete disaster.
A win against the lowly Canadiens could curb the negative momentum. Six of the next seven games are at home, where the Capitals are a much better team. That said, a loss to the last-place Canadiens at Verizon Center could push GM George McPhee to reverse course and plan for next season instead of trying to add help before the trade deadline.
Who's Hot: Max Pacioretty has six goals in the past seven games for Montreal. Michal Neuvirth hasn't started either of the past two games for Washington, but he has finished them -- and played pretty well in the process. He's stopped 44 of 47 shots, including at least 10 Grade A chances on odd-man rushes, breakaways or general breakdowns in front of him.
Injury Report: The Canadiens are without captain Brian Gionta (biceps) and top defenseman Andrei Markov (knee). They might also be without top center Tomas Plekanec (virus) and left wing Travis Moen (upper body). … Nicklas Backstrom is out with a concussion for the Capitals, and captain Alex Ovechkin could miss a second straight game with a lower-body injury. He skated for about 15 minutes Thursday, but not at full speed.
Stat Pack: The Capitals are 22-26-5 since a 7-0-0 start, which is a pace of 75.8 points over the course of 82 games. They have averaged 107.5 the past four seasons.
Puck Drop: Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner summed up the state of his team to reporters Thursday after practice.
"When we're not doing what we used to be doing, you start questioning," Alzner said. "That's when bad things happen. You find the players that play the best are the ones that go out and just do it-they don't overthink the game. That's been a little bit of our issue.
"Teams are taking advantage of our slow starts right now. And we're too fragile to be able to bounce back."