January 9 vs. Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WFED 1500 and Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 25-9-5
Montreal Canadiens 25-9-6
Video: Rinkside Update: Karl Alzner
Two of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference and the NHL tangle on Monday night in Montreal when the Capitals conclude a two-game road trip with the first of their two visits to Quebec this season. The Habs have played one more game than the Caps, and they have one more standings point. The two teams have identical totals of wins and losses entering Monday's game; the only difference is Montreal has one more overtime/shootout loss.
Washington comes into town on the heels of a 1-0 victory over the Senators in Ottawa on Saturday night. T.J. Oshie scored at 1:38 of the first period, and Braden Holtby stopped all 30 Senators shots he faced to make that lone early goal hold up the rest of the way. Nicklas Backstrom provided the primary helper on Oshie's goal to notch the 500th assist of his NHL career.
Backstrom became the 10th Swedish-born player to reach the 500-assist milestone, and the second fastest to get there, doing so in his 691st career game. Only Peter Forsberg (551) reached the plateau sooner among Swedish NHLers.
Among players whose NHL careers began after 1989, Backstrom is just the fourth to reach 500 assists before playing in his 700th career game. He joins Forsberg, Sidney Crosby (554 games) and Jaromir Jagr (642 games) on that short list.
Saturday's win over the Sens is the Capitals' fifth win in a row, and their 25th of the season, coming just ahead of the midpoint of the campaign. The Caps have now pieced together three winning streaks of at least five games in length this season, and they'll be aiming to match their season-long sun of six games on Monday night in Montreal.
Washington has earned 1-0 and 2-1 victories, as well as 6-2, 6-5 and 5-0 triumphs during the life of its current winning streak.
"You play different teams every night and teams play differently as well so I feel like every game is not going to be the same," says Backstrom. "It's going to be different games. Some teams play a more defensive style than others, and some games are going to be high-scoring games, like the previous two.
"I thought we did a good job there in the third, shutting them down, and they had a couple of power plays, too, and they had a chance to tie it. We did a good job there, and Holtby was great back there too. He made some huge saves."
Caps coach Barry Trotz wants his team to be able to play and to be able to win any style of game that is presented on a given night, and the team's current run has showcased that ability.
"It's been a little bit of a crash course in styles," says Trotz. "We've had Toronto and Ottawa, and the teams that we've played lately, [the wins] have all come in different ways - Columbus. Good on these guys.
"We were a little bit worried about this game [against the Sens] and just going forward here. We've had a couple of tough goes and we've got a lot of guys who were fighting a little bit of the flu. We are hopefully getting through that. We were a little worried about energy levels, but today was the one day we had concern because [Friday] was not a good day for a few of our guys. Hopefully it has gone through our team and we'll move on."
Video: Orpik on the team battling illness
While the flu bug seems to have run its course through the Washington room, the Caps are dealing with some other ailments. Injuries have been a rare and isolated issue for Washington this season, as the Capitals have lost a league-low nine man-games to injury through the first 39 contests of the season. But Oshie was on the receiving end of a couple of Dion Phaneuf hits in Saturday's game, and both sent him to the dressing room for evaluation. He did not return from the second one, and is day-to-day with an upper body injury.
Caps winger Tom Wilson blocked an Erik Karlsson shot during a Washington penalty kill late in Saturday's win, and although he did return to the ice later in the game, he was found to be ailing afterwards. Wilson is day-to-day with a lower body injury.
Washington recalled forward Liam O'Brien from AHL Hershey before departing on the current road trip, and the Caps will recall Paul Carey from Hershey on Monday as well. One or both of those two could be in the lineup on Monday if either Oshie or Wilson is unable to answer the bell.
Just over three weeks ago in Washington, the Caps and the Habs met for the first of three times this season. The Habs prevailed by a 2-1 count in that game, and Washington's lone goal of the contest was Backstrom's power-play goal that came while the Capitals enjoyed a two-man advantage. Washington was effective at possessing the puck and keeping it in the attack zone in that game, but the Canadiens were effective at keeping the Caps from the interior and the prime scoring areas of the ice.
The Caps' challenge on Monday would appear to be to find ways to get to the middle of the ice and to generate the types of shots and scoring chances that will test an superb netminder such as the Canadiens' Carey Price.
Video: Ovechkin on Monday's matchup with Montreal
"Obviously we have to create some traffic in front of Price," says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. "They're a solid team. They have lots of talent out there and good defensive players. We just have to continue to produce when we can. Just be on the ice and try to get dirty, create traffic and find the puck."
Montreal is a top five team in the NHL in both goals for and goals against. The Canadiens have had some issues with injuries this season, but a few of their key players - such as forward Alex Galchenyuk and defenseman Andrei Markov - may be on the verge of returning to action and could play as soon as Monday.
Since roaring out to a 13-1-1 start to the season, the Habs have been a more mortal 12-8-5. They are 15-3-2 on Bell Centre ice in 2016-17. Because of the World Junior Championship being played in Montreal, the Habs have played seven straight road games, posting a more than respectable 4-1-2 mark during that stretch.
Monday's game against Washington is the Habs' first home game in more than two weeks, since a 4-2 loss to Minnesota on Dec. 22. The Canadiens go right back on the road for a two-game trip to Winnipeg and Minnesota after entertaining the Caps.
The Canadiens will carry a three-game winning streak of their own into Monday's game against the Capitals. Most recently, the Habs downed the Maple Leafs by a 5-3 count in Toronto on Saturday night. That game ended a stretch of five straight overtime games for the Canadiens, who won three of those five extra-session contests.