BROSSARD - Operation: push for a playoff spot is officially back on, and what better way to get the mission going than with a date with the first-place Washington Capitals.
The Canadiens have a relatively steep mountain to climb if they want to play postseason puck this spring, with a 10-point gap separating them from both the final Wild Card position and third place in the Atlantic Division.
But having won four of their five games heading into their bye week and the All-Star break, the Habs are feeling good about their ability to get the job done.
"It gives us good confidence booster. When you win four out of five going into the bye week, at least it makes us feel good about ourselves coming back," outlined Nick Cousins, who scored a pair of goals in Montreal's 5-4 shootout win over the Vegas Golden Knights on January 18. "We can't get too far ahead of ourselves. We just have to focus on tonight and get two points tonight, then look forward to Buffalo."\
Video: Cousins on the Habs picking up where they left off
Nick Suzuki is enjoying a solid rookie season in the NHL - his 27 points are tied for fifth among first-year players and he's sixth for goals (9) and assists (18) - but he knows that the real fun would come from competing for Lord Stanley's mug with hockey's most storied logo on his chest.
"Everyone in this room wants to win hockey games and get into the playoffs. From what I've heard, there's nothing like playing for the Habs in a playoff game," shared Suzuki, whose four power play goals are tied for third among NHL rookies. "I want to be that position this year, and we're all fighting for that."
The fight begins on Monday night, and it'll be the League's first-overall team that'll get the chance to put the Canadiens to the test for the first time. The Washington Capitals will be without their captain and leading goal-scorer, as Alex Ovechkin will be serving a one-game suspension after opting out of the 2020 All-Star Game.
The Habs know that Ovi's absence doesn't really make the task any easier.
"They're a first-place team, and they're not there just because of Alex Ovechkin. I think they have a good team," declared head coach Claude Julien of the Caps, who lead the NHL with 71 points and a 33-11-5 record. "They have two good goalies and a defenseman who's producing more than a point per game. He gives their power play a boost. They also have lots of other players who can score."
Video: Claude Julien's pregame press conference
Special night for Weiser
The Canadiens will be keeping their eyes firmly planted on their hunt for a playoff spot, but that shouldn't take away from what will surely be a special night for forward Dale Weise, who will be suiting up for his 500th game in the NHL on Monday.
After starting the season with the AHL's Laval Rocket, the Winnipeg native wasn't sure he'd be able to hit the plateau but is grateful for all who helped him reach it.
"The way the year started for me, I probably didn't expect this to happen. It's a lot of games, a lot of hard work, a lot of help, a lot of people helped me get there," expressed Weise, the New York Rangers' fourth-round pick (111th overall) in 2008. "It's a proud moment for me."
Video: Dale Weise on his line
Notes from practice
After skating in full equipment the day before, forwards Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin were on the ice with their teammates on Monday - albeit in non-contact jerseys. Julien didn't have any further updates other than to say that he felt it was a step in the right direction for them to be able to join their teammates for practice.
Marco Scandella, meanwhile, missed the morning skate and Julien told reporters he would be a question mark to face the Caps.
Paul Byron skated on his own later in the morning. Unlike Sunday, he was in full equipment this time, but no updates were given on his recovery.
The Canadiens face the Washington Capitals on Monday starting at 7:00 p.m. at the Bell Centre. For tickets to the game, click here.