- The Canadiens skated at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Thursday ahead of their tilt against the Washington Capitals at the Bell Centre.
- After missing the last four games with a fractured jaw, defenseman Tom Gilbert returns to the Canadiens’ lineup on Thursday night. The veteran rearguard suffered the injury back on March 21 against the San Jose Sharks. To make room for Gilbert, Greg Pateryn will be a healthy scratch on defense.
- Also making a return to the Canadiens’ lineup is Devante Smith-Pelly after being a healthy scratch for the last two games. He should take Brian Flynn’s spot on the fourth line.
“I’m happy to be back in. It’s tough to be on the sidelines, but at the same time it lets you see the game from another angle, take a few notes and apply them to your game,” offered Smith-Pelly, who will likely be featured on a line with Torrey Mitchell and Jacob De La Rose on Thursday night.
“They’re a very physical group. I played against them a few times this season,” added Smith-Pelly, who has dished out 50 hits in 15 games since joining the Canadiens. “They have talent and power. We’ll have to play a physical game and cause traffic. We could potentially play them in the playoffs. It will be just like a playoff game.”
- Head coach Michel Therrien will go in search of his 200th career win behind the Canadiens’ bench on Thursday night.
- Carey Price will make his 63rd start of the season. Price still leads the NHL in wins, save percentage, goals-against average and shutouts. One of his nine shutouts during the 2014-15 campaign came against Washington. That happened back on January 31 when Price stopped 36 shots in a 1-0 overtime win.
- In two games against the Capitals this season, the Canadiens have managed to neutralize the League’s sixth best offense. Barry Trotz’s contingent has managed to light the lamp just once this year against the CH. Back on October 9, Michel Therrien’s troops posted a 1-0 win in Washington before blanking the Capitals in late January on home ice. Despite registering 12 shots on goal during those contests, Alex Ovechkin was held off the scoresheet entirely.
- While keeping Ovechkin at bay will be a primary focus for Canadiens defensemen on Thursday night, Michel Therrien’s rearguards are perfectly aware that the Capitals boast several other offensive threats, too. With 55 assists and 73 points on the year, Nicklas Backstrom is certainly one of them. That being said, focusing solely on slowing down Ovechkin isn’t necessarily the ultimate recipe for success against Washington.
“Obivously, Ovi is a really special player to have scored 50 goals as many times as he has. But, you have to look at the supporting cast. Backstrom is probably one of the best passers in the game now, if not the best,” offered Nathan Beaulieu, who will play his 60th game of the season on Thursday night. “It’s tough. You want to pay as much attention to Ovi as you can, but there are guys like Backstrom that are going to make you pay as well. We need to respect Ovi and his supporting cast. His supporting cast is just as important.”
With that in mind, Beaulieu insists the key to victory is ensuring Ovechkin & Co. aren’t afforded the opportunity to enter the Canadiens’ zone uncontested. Giving the likes of Ovechkin and Backstrom time to work their magic simply isn’t an option.
“Gap is going to be the biggest thing, especially with the big, strong and fast guys they have. We want them not to be able to make plays at the line. We want to make them dump the puck and start battles,” stressed Beaulieu, who has one goal and nine points during the 2014-15 campaign. “The blue line is going to win the game tonight.”
- If gap control is a primary key to victory against the Capitals, another is discipline. Barry Trotz’s club boasts the League’s best power play, making their opponents pay 24.4 percent of the time.
“That’s an incredible power play. Sometimes, calls happen and penalties are part of the game. We need to be more disciplined in this locker room,” mentioned Beaulieu, whose squad took six minor penalties in its most recent outing against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night. “We know that. A team like Washington is going to make you pay if you’re not disciplined.”
And, if the Capitals do manage to put their League-leading man advantage to work, Gilbert believes the Canadiens are prepared to slow it down.
“We watched a lot of video of their power play this morning. Their team is perfect for that,” offered Gilbert, who will sport a full shield on Thursday night to protect his jaw. “If we give them a chance to score, they’re going to do it. We have to limit their opportunities.”
- Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. EST. The game will be broadcast on RDS and Sportsnet East.
Projected lineup vs. Washington:
Pacioretty – Plekanec – Gallagher
Galchenyuk – Desharnais – Parenteau
Weise – Eller – Prust
De La Rose – Mitchell– Smith-Pelly
Malhotra - Flynn
Markov – Subban
Emelin – Petry
Beaulieu – Gilbert
Gonchar – Pateryn
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