WASHINGTON, DC - Head coach Claude Julien is making one lineup change for Friday night's contest against the Capitals at Capital One Arena.
Forward Jordan Weal draws back in after watching the last four games from the press box as a healthy scratch.
The 27-year-old North Vancouver, BC native returns just in time to square off against the League's top team, as Todd Reirden's squad sits atop the standings with 14 wins and a franchise-record 32 points through 20 games.
"It's always a lot of fun coming into this rink and getting to play the best because it's who you want to stack yourself up against," said Weal, who has two goals and three points in 10 appearances this season. "I've been in this situation many times. I played these guys a lot when I was in Philly. I've played in this rink a couple of times. They always bring the best out of other teams. It's going to be a good challenge for us as a group, and it's going to be a lot of fun."
Fun, yes, provided the group as a whole is prepared to battle right from the get-go because the Capitals aren't in the business of making things easy for the opposition.
Washington is currently riding a 13-game point streak, going 11-0-2 during that span. The last time they fell in regulation was all the way back on October 14.
Assistant captain Brendan Gallagher didn't mince words regarding the importance of being completely focused come puck drop.
"You better be ready to play or you're going to be embarrassed," said Gallagher. "You know how good and how talented the team on the other side is. We have a lot of confidence in our group that if we play our game, we can compete with anyone in this League. We have that belief, but this is a good chance for us to show that."
Video: Brendan Gallagher on stopping Alexander Ovechkin
No doubt keeping captain Alexander Ovechkin from lighting the lamp will be a top priority given his penchant for burning the Canadiens over the years.
In 48 career games versus Montreal, the Russian sniper boasts 31 goals and 53 points, so his presence on the ice is always cause for concern.
So how do you contain a player of Ovechkin's caliber, Brendan?
"It's not the easiest thing to do," admitted Gallagher, before sharing a plan of action. The biggest thing is you try and limit the time and space of his playmakers. Whether he's been playing with [Nicklas] Backstrom or [Evgeny] Kuznetsov throughout his career, they've done a good job of finding him. You know where his spot is on the ice. It's tough sometimes because it doesn't take much for him to get his shot off. But, if you limit the chances when he does get one or two, you hope that you're able to get a save and you kind of go from there."
The kids are stoked
Youngsters Nick Suzuki and Cale Fleury are both eager to share the ice with Ovechkin for the first time in their respective careers.
"He's always a guy I like to watch, just how good of a goal scorer he is," said Suzuki, regarding the 10-time All-Star who has eight 50-goal seasons on his NHL resume. "He's definitely someone I watched when I was young."
Likewise, Fleury paid close attention to Ovechkin's scoring prowess growing up and he's well-aware of his offensive capabilities.
"He's a great scorer. He's got one of the best shots in the League. You've got to look out for that, especially on the power play. He's known for his one-timer in that spot," said Fleury. "He's been good for so long. The fact that he's still putting up 50 goals in some of the seasons lately is really impressive."
Make no mistake about it, though, Fleury isn't going to shy away from playing a physical brand against the Capitals' superstar and company if the opportunity presents itself.
The 20-year-old defenseman ranks third on the roster with 41 hits behind only Jeff Petry (47) and Joel Armia (43), and he doesn't plan to change.
"Any team we play against, I try to be physical. It gets me in the game. If I can start hitting guys, my mind is in the game more. I think these guys will be coming hard tonight, and I feel like I'll like that," mentioned Fleury, who knows dishing out a hit on Ovechkin could come with a price. "That would be nice [to hit Ovechkin]. He's a big body, so it might hurt me, too, if I do that."
The latest on Jesperi
According to Julien, Jesperi Kotkaniemi still hasn't been given the green light to return to active duty.
The 19-year-old Finn continues to recover from a groin injury sustained in late October that will force him to miss his seventh consecutive game on Friday night.
He did, however, take part in the optional skate at Capital One Arena and spent some additional time on the ice working on his shot with strength and conditioning coordinator, Patrick Delisle-Houde.
It remains to be seen if Kotkaniemi will be good to go for Saturday night's game against the New Jersey Devils at the Bell Centre.