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Caps Host Habs with New Look on Defense

Newly acquired blueliner Brenden Dillon is expected to debut with the Caps on Thursday vs. Montreal

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

Feb. 20 vs. Montreal Canadiens at Capital One Arena

Time: 7:00 p.m.

TV: NBCSW

Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN

 

Montreal Canadiens 27-27-8

Washington Capitals 37-17-5

After an unsuccessful three-game Western road trip in which they won one of the three contests, the Caps make a quick stop at home on Thursday night to host the Montreal Canadiens in the finale of the three-game season's series between the two teams.

Washington started its trip on a high note, earning a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the Avalanche in Denver. But the Caps couldn't sustain that rocky mountain high; they never led at any point in subsequent games in Arizona and Vegas, respectively, and they came home lugging a two-game losing streak.

Tuesday was an off day for the Capitals, but they did make a trade with the San Jose Sharks, swapping a second- and a conditional third-round draft pick to San Jose in exchange for defenseman Brenden Dillon, who is a nine-year NHL veteran with 588 games worth of regular season and 62 games worth of Stanley Cup playoff experience.

Dillon arrived in the D.C. area on Wednesday afternoon, well after the Caps completed their practice session at MedStar Capitals Iceplex. He is likely to make his debut in a Washington sweater on Thursday against the Habs.

Video: Reirden | February 19

"We're really excited to add a piece like Brenden to our team," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "Just how he goes about every day in terms of his on-the-ice play; he is physical, not fun to play against, hard around the front of the net. He can play against the other team's top players; he has shown that over the last few years. And then off the ice, he is a guy that is a strong leader, a big, positive personality in great shape."

Reirden noted that the Caps would like to have Dillon in the lineup as soon as possible, and indicated that he would be deployed in Washington's top four, on the left side of a pairing with either John Carlson or Dmitry Orlov.

Washington played well defensively on its road trip, allowing only seven goals in the three games, excluding empty-netters. But after a strong first half of the season, the Caps have slowed considerably since, and they've yielded an average of 3.45 goals per game over their last 22 games, while posting a pedestrian 11-11-0 record. Washington is 29th in the NHL in goals against over that span.

But to MacLellan's eyes, the Caps' recent rise in goals against is not all on the team's blueline corps.

"I think sometimes our defense is getting pinpointed for it," says MacLellan, "where I think team defense should be more the focus of the criticism. I think our forwards contribute to the pressure that is put on our [defense] - wall play in our own end, back-pressure, lack of a forecheck. I think our team game is off, and that results in poor defensive efforts from basically our team."

Video: Brian MacLellan | February 19

San Jose picked up half of Dillon's remaining salary for this season, so the Caps still have a little bit of salary cap space with which to work. The trade deadline is Monday afternoon, and the Caps will play three games in four days ahead of the deadline. Washington's defense and its goaltending are almost certainly set for the stretch drive and playoff run, but MacLellan is still talking to and listening to the league's other 30 general managers.

If the Caps do anything else with their personnel between now and Monday, it will likely be an addition to the team's group of forwards. Washington has been carrying 21 players for most of the season, and even with Tuesday's addition of Dillon, the Caps still have a roster spot and some cap space with which to work.

"We are going to pursue anything that we think can make us better," says MacLellan. "We'll continue to talk to teams. We've had conversations - as we've had with the defense - and we'll keep doing it, and see if we can make our team better."

When they came to D.C. earlier this season, the Canadiens came in with some swagger. They defeated the Caps here by a 5-2 count on Nov. 15, and at that stage of the season the Habs were 11-5-3 and in second place in the Atlantic Division, three points behind front-running Boston.

But that turned out to be the high-water mark of the campaign for the Canadiens. They promptly lost eight straight (0-6-2), giving up 38 goals in those eight games. As they roll into the District once again three months later, the Habs are in the midst of playing out the string of another lost season. They are 10 points shy of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, destined to miss the playoffs for the third straight season, the first time in nearly two decades they've suffered that ignominy.

Montreal won seven of nine games (7-2-0) around the midseason break, but it wasn't able to gain much ground in the wild card chase with that hot spell. The Habs have dropped five in a row (0-4-1) since and are likely to be sellers rather than buyers between now and Monday.

The Habs hit town in the middle match of a three-game road trip, a tour that began with a 4-3 loss to the Red Wings in Detroit on Tuesday. The Wings won all four of their games against the Canadiens this season, accounting for more than a quarter of Detroit's total of 15 wins (15-43-4) in 62 games in 2019-20.

Video: Caps 365 | February 19

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